(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – After sending its six graduating players off with a pregame Senior Day ceremony Saturday afternoon at Yellowjacket Field, the Montana State University Billings men’s soccer team proceeded to stun visiting Simon Fraser University with a 3-0 Great Northwest Athletic Conference triumph in the 2021 home regular-season finale.
Halil Yilmaz kept his hopes to be the GNAC scoring champion alive with two goals, and senior Brad Lowes netted his first in an MSUB uniform in his final match on his home field. The Yellowjackets (4-7-3, 2-4-2) defeated SFU for just the second time in school history, and handed the visitors their most lopsided GNAC defeat since a 3-0 loss to Western Washington on Nov. 9, 2013. “This means a lot,” said MSUB head coach Thomas Chameraud. “The wins against Simon Fraser don’t happen very often, and it says a lot about today’s performance. Going out like this for the seniors with a big win is awesome.”
Connor Trapp had a magnificent performance in goal with six outstanding saves to propel MSUB to its third shutout result of the year. Marvin Putu upped his GNAC-leading assist total to seven, adding two more assists in his final match at Yellowjacket Field as well.
Luca Battistotti played in the 71st match of his MSUB career, moving into a tie for third place on the all-time games played list. The fifth-year senior was sensational at center back, locking down SFU over the first 86 minutes before being ceremoniously removed at the end of the match to a rousing ovation. “This program means a lot to me,” said Battistotti, a fourth-year team captain. “I came here five years ago, and I changed a lot thanks to this program. We have one more week – we are not done yet, so we have to focus and start working for Monday again. We want of course to finish on a good note.”
“Luca has been awesome, and like his performance today he has been a great center back for us all season,” Chameraud commented on his team captain. “He is someone who bleeds blue and yellow, and those type of players don’t really happen very often. We are very proud of Luca and his achievements here at MSUB.”
Although MSUB is out of the postseason picture ahead of next week’s season-ending road matches, the ‘Jackets have played spoiler over the last two weeks taking points from each of the top-three teams in the conference. After drawing first-place Seattle Pacific 1-1 on Oct. 30 and second-place Western Washington 1-1 on Thursday, MSUB turned in its best result of the season on Saturday to keep SFU in third place in the league table.
SFU (8-7, 5-4) did not go without chances on Saturday, sending multiple shots off the woodwork and looking on in disbelief at Trapp’s multiple top-notch saves to keep them out of the net. The true freshman’s biggest stops came in the opening six minutes, when he knocked away a close-range shot by Mark Talisuna before diving to deny a Rahid Raheim attempt that was headed for the lower-left corner of the net.
The boost from the goalkeeper spurred the Yellowjackets to their first goal of the match, which came in the 17th minute when Tybalt Thornberry sent a high ball into the box from the left side of the pitch. Yilmaz’s diving header attempt clanged off the left post, before he bounced up, took a touch, and finished a left-footed strike past the reach of SFU goalkeeper Aidan Bain.
Less than two minutes later, MSUB hit SFU with a counterattack that doubled the team’s lead. Intercepting the ball deep in the defensive third, Paul Cuevas streaked forward towards SFU’s last line of defense. He timed a through ball perfectly to Putu running down the left flank, and the senior craftily found Lowes at the six-yard box and watched as the Brit nudged an outside-foot finish inside the far post.
MSUB wasn’t done there, as a save by Bain on an on-target strike from Putu resulted in a corner kick. The French international neatly took down the deflected cross and quickly beat his defender on the right side, before sending a low pass with pace back towards the six-yard box. Yilmaz was there to hook a right-footed redirect behind his body and into the net, prompting a wild celebration as the ‘Jackets put the game out of reach seven minutes before halftime.
Yilmaz’s two finishes upped his season total to 11, as he kept pace with Alex Mejia of Seattle Pacific University who scored his conference-leading 13th goal in the Falcons’ 1-1 draw against Western Washington on Saturday.
Trapp had one more moment of brilliance, coming through as the 10-second countdown rang out over the PA system. First he stifled a point-blank shot by Raheim, before bouncing up and laying out to his left to knock away the return try by Bjorn Borren with one second left on the clock. “We had a great first half, and I told the boys at halftime that we had created a lot of chances,” said Chameraud. “We needed to close it down a little bit better in the second half, and the guys did a very good job of that to get the clean sheet.”
SFU managed six more shots in the second half, but never threatened to chip into MSUB’s lead during the one-sided affair. Lowes contributed 80 strong minutes in the midfield, while Putu turned in 57 minutes to get his two assists. Brady Tesch played 66 minutes in his final match on his home field, and Aleksandar Garza earned the final 13 minutes in goal to close his MSUB career.
Meanwhile, Haylee Gunter scored both MSUB goals in her final career match Saturday afternoon, but host Central Washington University claimed a season-ending 3-2 Great Northwest Athletic Conference result.
The Yellowjackets equalized twice on Saturday, before CWU dealt the final blow early in the second half to end its season with a win on its home field. MSUB ended the year with a record of 7-9-3, and went 4-8-2 in conference play for 14 points and a sixth-place finish. Central Washington meanwhile finished the season 5-13 overall and 4-10 in league play to take seventh place with 12 points.
“I am very proud of our seniors, who really stepped up all season and saved their best play for the end,” said MSUB head coach Stephen Cavallo. “Lexie played through sickness this road trip, and Haylee and Ally connected for three assists to goals on the trip.”
Sophia Keenan scored CWU’s first two goals, before Emily Darcy netted the game-winner on assists from Keenan and Bella Brown. MSUB out-shot CWU 19-15 in the match, and placed 10 attempts on frame, but CWU goalkeeper Megan Fox came away with seven saves to help her team claim three points.
CWU struck directly after kickoff, with Keenan finishing a through ball from Sydney Lowe in just the fourth minute of the match.
Gunter took advantage of a miscue from the CWU back line in the 32nd minute, knocking home her second goal of the weekend to pull the score line even at 1-1.
Keenan struck again in the 38th minute, on another assist from Lowe. This time she punched home a one-time finish from inside the box to put the hosts ahead a second time.
With less than 30 seconds on the clock before halftime, Gunter once again helped her team pull level. She received a through ball from fellow senior Ally Findlay and chipped home the 12th and final goal of her MSUB career. “This wasn’t exactly the way I saw my senior year ending, but I am just super grateful to end the season putting away some goals and for teammates who always pushed me to be my best,” said Gunter, the reigning GNAC Player of the Week. “I can’t wait to see what they can do next year with the amount of talent they have. My time here at MSUB has truly changed me into someone that would be unrecognizable four years ago. I don’t regret a single moment I spent here.”
Eleven minutes into the second half, Darcy tucked home a loose ball after a shot by Brown that was saved by MSUB goalkeeper Tuva Sallvin, for what was the final goal of the afternoon.
Findlay played all 90 minutes in the final match of her collegiate career, turning in her second assist of the season. “Although it was a tough road trip, and we didn’t get the results we wanted, I’m grateful to pay my last two collegiate games with this team,” said Findlay, whose younger sister Kailey was a freshman on the squad this fall.
Lexie Bloyder was MSUB’s other senior on the field Saturday, and she ended her collegiate career playing all 90 minutes as well. “I am very grateful for my time at MSUB as I have grown immensely as a person and have been blessed with some great relationships along the way,” said Bloyder, a Billings native. “I am very proud to have represented Billings and Montana.”
Sydney Torres had a career-high eight shots including four on target for the ‘Jackets, while Jordan Roe chipped in a pair of shot attempts including one on frame. “The season is over and we won’t be able to go back and change any of the results, and we can only learn from it and get better,” said Cavallo. “This team has the talent to compete, and it is frustrating we didn’t get more wins in conference this year.