(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
NAMPA, Idaho – Despite a furious comeback effort with two goals in the final eight minutes Thursday night at the NNU Soccer Field, the Montana State University Billings women’s soccer team saw its quest for a playoff berth come to a close with a 3-2 defeat at the hands of host Northwest Nazarene University.
The Yellowjackets (7-8-3, 4-7-2 GNAC) were eliminated from postseason contention before Saturday’s season finale at Central Washington. MSUB is in sixth place in the conference standings with 14 points, trailing fifth-place Western Oregon by one point and fourth-place Simon Fraser by two points. Because SFU holds the tiebreaker over MSUB, and SFU plays Western Oregon Saturday, it is impossible for the Yellowjackets to reach the fourth and final playoff berth even with a win on Saturday.
“I am so proud of our three seniors for what they have given us today and this entire season,” said MSUB head coach Stephen Cavallo. “I wish we all could have done more to help them get the result they deserved.”
The Yellowjackets battled as hard Thursday night as they have all season, fighting to the final whistle and rallying to give themselves a chance despite trailing 3-0. Taylor Gertsch scored her first collegiate goal on a magnificent free kick and reigning GNAC Player of the Week Haylee Gunter added her fourth goal in the last three matches, but MSUB came up one tally short of forcing overtime.
“We made it a game at the end and tried to fight until the last moment,” Cavallo said. “We asked these players to leave it on the field today. Nobody is happy about the goals we conceded, but everyone should be proud of how we never gave up.”
Madison Grande scored on a 12th-minute MSUB miscue, Allison Wolf added a brace five minutes before halftime, and Sierra Sanchez netted what proved to be the game-winner in the 54th minute for the hosts. NNU improved to 10-3-3 overall and is 8-3-2 in conference play, while sitting in third place with 26 points and two points behind second-place Western Washington.
A slow back-pass towards Clare Keenan never reached the MSUB goalkeeper in the 12th minute, as Grande raced forward to intercept the ball and touch her third goal in as many games into the back of the net to make the score 1-0.
In the 41st minute, Ashley Parton got free in the right corner and beat her mark into the goal box. She sent a low cross just above the six-yard box, where Wolf was waiting to punch a solid strike into the back of the net.
The Nighthawks worked their way behind MSUB’s back line again less than 10 minutes into the second half, this time with McKenzie Buell running onto a through ball and carrying it deep into the goal box on the right side. Her low cross found the foot of Sanchez, who tucked a well-placed, left-footed shot into the lower-left corner of the net on her first touch.
Gunter was fouled hard by NNU goalkeeper Alexis Montoya just outside of the goal box in the 83rd minute of play. Gertsch stepped up to the mark, and curled a perfectly-touched shot over a four-player defensive wall and inside the right goal post for her first finish of the season.
The goal sparked life into the Yellowjackets, who struck again less than 90 seconds later. Ally Findlay drilled a long ball from the MSUB defensive midfield all the way through the NNU back line, where Gunter was lurking. The senior took one touch, before curling home a low, right-footed shot into the bottom-left corner of the net to bring MSUB within one.
After the defensive lapse, NNU kept it together over the final six minutes and prevented the ‘Jackets from a clean look at finding a last-second equalizer.
Keenan made six saves throughout the game while facing 24 shots including 10 on target. Findlay and Hailee Gertsch played the full 90 minutes at center back, while Gunter and Taylor Gertsch each played the full game as well. Leila Clark led the Yellowjackets with three shots and two on target, as MSUB managed 12 total shot attempts and placed half of them on frame.
Montoya, the GNAC leader in saves, had four stops to earn the victory in goal. Grande led all players with six shots including two on frame, while Makayla Roggow had five shot attempts with two landing on target.
Meantime, despite playing down a man for more than 80 minutes on Thursday afternoon at Yellowjacket Field, MSUB's men salvaged a 1-1, double-overtime draw against visiting Western Washington University in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play.
The Yellowjackets’ Valdemar Fogt was shown a red card in the 29th minute, but the team managed to hold off the first-place Vikings until an 84th-minute equalizer as the teams settled for a point apiece. MSUB moved to 3-7-3 overall and is 1-4-2 in conference play with its second straight draw, while WWU’s record moved to 7-7-1 overall and 5-2-1 in league action. “I though the team did really well, considering we were a man down pretty early,” said junior defender Tybalt Thornberry. “We really showed grit, and showed what we were made of to pull out a tie against a top team in the GNAC.”
Senior Marvin Putu scored his first collegiate goal in the 12th minute, giving the ‘Jackets an advantage they held until the waning minutes of the match. Thornberry, Bryan Maxwell, and Luca Battistotti were instrumental in the defensive effort, each playing the full 110 minutes. “He’s so key in our back line,” Thornberry commented on the senior captain Battistotti. “He’s the one who commands everything, the one who tells us to step, to drop off, and to press. We all listen to him and look up to him, and he did really well today.”
Battistotti played in his 70th career match on Thursday, moving him into a tie for fourth-most games played in school history. It was the sixth time in his career he has played the full 110 minutes in a double-overtime match, and he nearly got on the scoresheet as well with a pair of close-range header shot attempts on Thursday.
Putu’s finish started in the defensive third of the field on the foot of Pascal Pisarek, who sent a towering, high ball into the swirling wind towards the WWU goal box. Viking goalkeeper Brandon Locke came out of his box and attempted to clear the ball with his head, while simultaneously colliding with MSUB striker Halil Yilmaz. The tie up left Locke on the turf and the Viking net unguarded, and Putu kept his curling, left-footed strike from 32 yards out just under the crossbar to push the ‘Jackets ahead 1-0.
An entanglement between players shortly after Putu’s goal led to Fogt’s send off, as the ‘Jackets had to quickly adapt their formation preparing to spend the rest of the match short a player. “We fought adversity very early in the game, being a man down less than 30 minutes in,” said MSUB head coach Thomas Chameraud. “The guys fought hard and we can’t fault them for that. It’s a little frustrating giving up a goal like that on a set piece in the last five minutes, but they really battled today.”
Facing constant pressure throughout the afternoon, MSUB withstood being out-shot 23-8 in the match and limited the Vikings to just four attempts on target. Thornberry had numerous, crucial touches within the goal box, Maxwell commanded the aerial game with multiple header clearances, and Battistotti orchestrated the defensive effort with a well-kept back line and countless important tackles. Behind the back line was freshman goalkeeper Connor Trapp, who had four key saves to help his team stay even. None was bigger than his 94th-minute denial of a shot by Alex Whiting, as he reacted quickly to his right to tip clear a strong attempt from close range that was headed for the upper-corner of the net.
“They handled the long balls very well, and we knew those were going to come as well as a lot of crosses,” said Chameraud on the defensive effort. “The guys fought really hard today, and also give credit to the center mids and forwards who covered a lot of ground.”
A set piece with six minutes left on the clock did in the Yellowjackets’ hopes at a win, as WWU created a dangerous chance deep in MSUB territory on the left side of the pitch. Gus Diehl whipped a cross into the box, Theo Steinmetz flicked a header to Whiting, and the latter had enough room to push home the late equalizer from 12 yards out.
Brad Lowes contributed an exceptional performance in the middle of the pitch, pushing through a gutsy 101 minutes and bouncing back up from numerous hard challenges throughout the game.
Whiting and Drew Farnsworth led all players with five shots apiece, while Whiting landed three of WWU’s four on-target attempts. Locke made just one save in the match – on an attempt from Yilmaz – as the ‘Jackets were hindered offensively having to deal with being down a player.
“Credit to the guys since returning from the break,” said Chameraud. “We had a tie against SPU who was nationally ranked, and a tie against Western who was in first place in the conference. Today was a good summary of our season, because I think we deserve a little bit more than our record shows.”