Friday, October 12, 2012

Montana roars past Eastern Washington 4-0

Wheeler (L) created the first of two scored by Craig (middle, R) | Photos: Gerald Barnhart
Erin Craig led a dominant performance from the Montana Grizzlies Friday afternoon as the visitors rolled to a 4-0 victory against the Eagles, who were playing their home finale for the season at Eastern Washington University.

The bad news started only seconds into the contest when defender Brianna Brannan (Kennewick, WA) suffered a knock inside the box that would eventually lead to her exit a few minutes later and a trip to the hospital for x-rays.

Erin Craig, Montana
And before the Eagles knew it, they found themselves in a hole when Montana found the back of the net. Paytyn Wheeler delivered a cross from deep in the right corner that found Craig (Great Falls, MT) in the middle of the box. The senior striker’s initial stop forced a quick reaction save from goalkeeper Jamie Walker, but the rebound created a scramble at the edge of the six with Walker on the ground trying to snare the ball only to see Craig finally get her foot on it to stab it into the back of the net from close-range five minutes into the contest.

“I thought she played extremely well today – she’s been actually doing well all year, creating a lot of opportunities for us,” said Montana head coach Mark Plakorus. “She’s our biggest threat I think and most people know that, and for her to get a couple goals today was good for her confidence and it was just a great performance by her.”

Montana controlled the possession most of the first half and spent much of the period putting pressure on the Eastern defense, outshooting the hosts 12-5.

In the 19th minute Craig turned provider with a perfect corner kick into the center of the box that found an open Tyler Adair for a header past Walker, who was unable to get her hand on it.

“Obviously Montana is a very high energy team and they are physical  -  that’s the way they play,” said Eastern Washington head coach George Hageage. “When you come out in the first 20 minutes and don’t set the intensity level and let them do it, and then make some mistakes in the back to give up a goal early, it’s going to be hard to come back against a team like that – they are just too good. That’s what dictated the whole game to be honest; the first 15 minutes.”

The Eagles would get their best chance of the half with four minutes left when a corner was directed to Katie Cashman at the top of the box , where she turned and fired on the volley just wide of the left post.

Mark Plakorus, Montana
Another early strike three minutes into the second half locked up the contest for the Grizzlies. Immediately after halting the Montana attack, the Eagles saw Craig steal the ball in the top left corner of the area and dribble squarely across the edge of the box before letting loose a light shot from about 17 yards that found its way inside the far right post out of Walker’s reach.

“I thought we played pretty well throughout most of the game,” said Plakorus. “It got a little bit away from us a bit in the first half when we started getting more direct balls, but as soon as we started getting the ball back down on the ground and we started knocking it around I thought we played very, very well.  I was very pleased with us just in our attacking mentality, the chances we created and then to finish the goals that we did was just a great way to end the game for us.”

Eastern, which was forced to find some hope mostly from long efforts, had a few chances as the game settled. Haley Stading fired from 22 yards in the 57th minute that forced a diving save from Kristen Hoon, who was rarely tested in her 78 minutes in goal. Three minutes later Cassie Black struck a nice volley off the bounce with her back to goal only to see it go right to Hoon.

Kristen Hoon, Montana
“It’s great for us,” Plakorus said of the clean sheet. “It’s one of the things we focused on this year – we want to get as many shutouts as we can, and it starts with our back line. I think our back line does a great job limiting opportunities and then Kristen just needs to make sure she’s focused so when we do need her to do what she does – and she’s been doing it for us.”

With 11 minutes left Mackenzie Akins delivered a through ball to Allie Simon to cap the match off for Montana.

“We are pretty excited. We knew this game was going to be extremely important to putting us in position with our last two conference games coming up to give us a chance to finish in the top four,” said Plakorus, who heads back home sitting atop the Big Sky table courtesy of other results. “We are just looking forward to getting on the road again next weekend, and playing as hard as we can and see if the ball bounces our way.”

With Portland State falling 2-1 to Idaho State, the race for the four Big Sky postseason berths is virtually up for grabs with the top seven teams separated by three points. Montana and PSU are first at 4-2-1 and 13 points with Weber State third (4-2-0) and the duo of Northern Arizona (3-1-2) and Sacramento State (3-2-2) level for fourth. Northern Colorado (3-1-1) and ISU (3-2-1) are even at 10 points. Sitting three points back of the top four in eighth, Eastern Washington still has a chance at the playoffs, but would need to win out on the road versus NAU and Southern Utah and find a lot of help.