Thursday, November 5, 2015

Lower seeds prevail in Big Sky: Eastern Washington falls, Montana advances

Thick, wet snow created a sticky situation in at the tourney Thursday | INWsn photo galleries coming soon
The opening day of the Big Sky tournament in Moscow was an eventful day. First, third-seeded Eastern Washington was knocked out, 3-1, by six-seeded Sacramento State in the first half of the doubleheader that saw the rain increase throughout. Then the snow - and plenty of it - began to fall as the second game kicked off. Fifth-seeded Montana looked right at home in it and used a pair of goals from Ashlee Pedersen (Spokane, WA) to down fourth-seeded Weber State 2-0.

The Hornets will face Northern Colorado in the morning game Friday and the Grizzlies will face host Idaho in the second half of the semifinal doubleheader.


The Eagles had a tough day stopping Hornets forward Kayla Collins (pictured above, right). She set up the opening goal and tallied twice in the second half to give Sacramento State the upset victory by the same 3-1 scoreline they lost by in Cheney earlier this season.

The Eagles had a bit of possession in the offensive end in the early going, but the Hornets seemed to find a way to get behind them throughout the match, particular on counters. Four minutes in Sacramento showed that it could be a problem area when a ball played Collins in behind but she did not challenge Mallory Taylor, sending the shot directly at her.

Five minutes later, however, Collins took the ball into the left corner of the field and sent a ball inside the box that was one-timed past Taylor by Jennifer Lum for the opening goal of the contest.

Eastern would get a pair of decent looks at goal for an equalizer before halftime, but came up short. In the 10th minute Delaney Romero got the ball on the right side and drove into the box only to put her shot right at goalkeeper Molly McConnell. In the 27th Chloe Williams a shot from the left side that whistled in front of the mouth of the goal only to go untouched and roll out of danger.

The Eagles outshot the Hornets 10-6 in the half, but most were relatively easy to handle and Sacramento State continually made things difficult for Eastern to maintain possession, consistently getting to the ball first on challenges or to intercept passes.

"Obviously, it was disappointing," Eastern Washington Head Coach Chad Bodnar said after the game. "I think with the year that we've had, we probably deserved more, but these are one-game situations and we got outplayed today. Credit to Sac State, they out-battled us a little bit today, and we gave up a bad goal to start the game. I thought before that we were running at them and things were going our way, but we got to be able to respond and bounce back from that. I think our kids worked hard. I just don't think they had a good day."

Trying to break through and rally against the Hornets got even harder when Sacramento State stung the Eagles for a second goal just two minutes into the second half. Similar to the go-ahead goal, a quick counter resulted in Adaurie Dayak driving up the right side and sending the ball across the six, where Collins knocked it home first-time.

Eight minutes later the Eagles through they were on the board. Savannah Hoekstra drove up the left touch line and cut into the box, creating a shot for Romero, but her effort squeaked past the far right post instead.

Sacramento State nearly cemented the result in the 73rd with a shot from Amanda Mielke that squirted between the legs of Taylor in front of goal, but she turned and collected the ball before it rolled over the line.

Eastern finally found the goal they were looking for in the 78th minute when Devan Talley received the ball from Williams on the left side. She went toward up the edge of the box, but with about six yards left to the endline, she lofted a ball to the back post that smacked off the woodwork and came back across goal nearly reaching the near post before it was finally clear that it has bounced over the line.

"We missed big-time chances in the first half and it was one of those days where the ball didn't want to go in - even on the goal we scored the ball it had to bounce across the two posts and just barely sneak in. You have those days. You just hope they aren't the one that matters at the end of the season. But, we'll keep building and keep getting better."

With eight minutes remaining the Hornets had another great chance after a series of passes along the edge of the box ended with an open shot from Dayak that curled just wide of the post.

As Eastern pushed for the equalizer, switching to three in the back, the Hornets utilized the counter again to put the match out of reach. Collins got the ball on the left side and drove toward goal. As she crossed a couple yards into the box, she halted and made a quick cut to create enough space between her and the defender to fire a powerful shot off the top of Taylor's outstretched hand and into the goal.

"I am really proud of these kids and proud of the seniors that we had - we had some great leadership out of Tasha Luu," Bodnar said of the season. "I don't think anyone would expect us to be 12-4 at the beginning of the season. But its always disappointing because as you continue to get better, you expect more. I think everybody in our group expected more than to lose first round here."


The second match of the afternoon was heavily-impacted by one factor more than Ashlee Pedersen and her two goals. Just as the game kicked off the snow began to fall. And to everyone's surprise, the flakes got bigger and bigger to the point that wet and sticky one-inch flakes were coming down in abundance.

The already slick pitch that saw several players go down in the first match made things even trickier as the snow collected on the surface. In addition to that, it changed the method of play significantly as long balls died before they got to the endline and every ball headed out of touch seemed to halt before they got to the line with more ease as the game wore on.

"I played in conditions like this playing in youth soccer or coaching in youth soccer, but never actually played a collegiate game in it," said Montana Head Coach Mark Plakorus. "It was tough. Tough to keep your foot and tough to see the lines, but really proud of my team for just persevering. We joke all the time we don't have an indoor facility at Montana so in the spring we practice outdoors in this stuff all the time. The girls were like, 'hey, it's just like spring practice.' Yeah it is guys - just keep playing."

With the conditions as they were, quality opportunities to score were at an extreme premium with the total shot count hitting 20 primarily out of players electing within 30 yards to shoot at goal as opposed to trying to find a pass.

The Grizzlies had the first good chance in the contest in the 25th minute when a corner from Chanelle Pederson into the box saw a Mackenzie Akins shot go blocked. The ball rebounded out to Tess Brenneman, but her effort from about 21 yards went wide of the target.

Montana took the lead, however, off of one of those long shots. An unexpected strike from Akins about 30 yards out lofted into goal was parried by goalkeeper Nikki Pittman off of the crossbar. The ball bounced down and before anyone could tell if it had crossed over Pedersen had charged in and beaten everyone to the ball to chest it over the line.

The Grizzlies nearly doubled the advantage just before the hour mark when a free kick by Mary Gintz well out along the right touch line found the head of Pedersen inside the box, but the header went wide to the left.

Then deja vu struck in the 70th minute. Another long shot. Another crossbar deflection. Another Pedersen goal.

"We talked about that. One of the things we've been having trouble with all year was finishing our chances and one of the things we hadn't been doing really good job of was just following shots for rebounds. We made it an emphasis in the last few weeks and Ashlee did a great job getting on the end of both of those."

This time the ball came out of the box to Kaitlin Crowell, who slowed a bit to focus as she carefully collected the ball and set her feet to send it back in from about 30 yards out, launching an effort that soared over the keeper and smacked off the bar. Again the ball bounced down inside the six and Pedersen rushed in and buried it before the keeper could collect it or a defender send it away.

From there, the Grizzlies controlled the match. Though they were busy around the Weber State goal, nothing come to fruition and as time wore out it became more about holding onto the ball and killing the clock so that the Wildcats could not find some late magic.

"Pretty excited about the opportunity to keep moving on. Idaho is a really good team and they have had a fantastic year. We got to get recovered and do our best to get ready to come out and give them the best game we can tomorrow," Plakorus said of Friday's match-up against Idaho. The Vandals won the previous meeting this season in Moscow 3-1.

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