CHICAGO — Matt Baldridge has something special going at Missoula Hellgate.
The junior has won three consecutive Class AA state championships with the Knights, and this week repeated as Montana’s Gatorade boys soccer player of the year. The Gatorade Company, in its 33rd year recognizing the nation’s best high school athletes, announced the news on Wednesday.
Baldridge, a 6-foot midfielder, scored 21 goals and tallied nine assists for Hellgate this season, leading the Knights to a 15-1-1 record and a 4-2 overtime victory over Kalispell Glacier in the state title game. He had two goals and an assist in the championship against the Wolfpack. Baldridge and Hellgate defeated rival Missoula Sentinel 3-2 in the 2016 state championship, and the Knights earned a 1-0 win over Helena High in the 2015 title game.
Baldridge is a two-time all-state selection, and increased his career stats to 32 goals and 23 assists.
“Matt’s presence on the field was top class,” said Kumal LaCasse, head coach of Great Falls CMR. “His strength, speed, field awareness and commitment to his teammates was evident from the first kickoff to the last whistle.”
The Gatorade player of the year award also recognizes “high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field.” Baldridge boasts a 3.34 grade-point average and is a member of Missoula Hellgate’s financial academy. He has also donated his time serving as a volunteer youth soccer coach and is an accomplished pianist.
He and his teammates will seek a fourth consecutive State AA championship in the fall.
Baldridge is the third Missoula Hellgate athlete to win the prestigious Gatorade honor, joining former teammate Peter Byrne (2015) and Garion Holian (2007). Other Montana winners include Alec Marshall (2013) and Ben Hietala (2014) of Bozeman, former Great Falls CMR standout Nick Downs (2011, 2012) and former Billings West teammates Jack Pueringer (2008) and Zach Moyers (2009). Next season, Baldridge will attempt to become the first Montanan to win the Gatorade soccer honor three times.
The Gatorade Company will give Baldridge $1,000 as part of its Gatorade Play It Forward program, allowing the two-time player of the year to donate the money to the youth sports organization of his choosing. He will also have an opportunity to enter for an additional $10,000 spotlight grant by completing an essay on why his organization deserves additional support.