Griz in need of strong finish, help from others
Oct. 16, 2013
The Montana soccer team enters its final stretch of Big Sky Conference matches this week when the Grizzlies host Eastern Washington. The teams will play at 3 p.m. on Friday at South Campus Stadium.
Montana will host Northern Arizona and Southern Utah next week, then wrap up its regular season on Friday, Nov. 1, with a nonconference match at UC Riverside.
Coverage: Friday's match will have live stats and live video coverage through GoGriz.com, the latter only available through a subscription to the site's All-Access. Calling the action will be Shaun Radley, the Gus Johnson of Big Sky Conference soccer play-by-play announcers.
Where they stand: With three Big Sky Conference matches remaining for both teams, Montana (4-7-4, 1-4-1 BSC) is tied for seventh with Southern Utah. Eastern Washington (3-12-0, 1-5-0 BSC) is tied for ninth with North Dakota.
What's at stake: Even at 1-4-1 in league matches, Montana is still mathematically alive to make the four-team Big Sky Conference tournament. But it's a longshot, and it will take plenty of help.
The top four teams in the Big Sky -- Portland State (5-0-1 BSC/16 points), Weber State (3-1-1/10), Northern Colorado (3-1-1/10) and Sacramento State (3-2-1/10) -- all have at least 10 points in the standings and a head-to-head win over Montana.
Even with three wins to close out their league schedule, the best the Grizzlies could do is reach 13 points. Best case scenario: Portland State, Weber State and Northern Colorado keep winning and beating the teams Montana has to jump in the standings.
That would be a start. Then there is the matter of Montana winning out. The Grizzlies have not had a three-match winning streak since late in the 2012 season.
Even winning at South Campus Stadium is no sure thing this season. Montana's 12-match unbeaten streak came to an end two weeks ago with back-to-back home losses to Sacramento State and Portland State, part of the reason the Grizzlies are in the position they're in.
"We're still alive, and we need some help, obviously, but the biggest thing for us is we have to play at our level," UM coach Mark Plakorus said. "We have to come out and compete and play our best soccer these next three matches.
"We can only take care of what we have in front of us. When it's all said and done, if we've done enough, then we'll be rewarded for it. If not, then we have only ourselves to look at."
Scouting Eastern Washington: The Eagles have only three wins this season, but they've been playing well, especially recently. EWU beat Sacramento State 2-1 in overtime in its last home match, then went on the road last week to Northern Colorado and North Dakota.
Against the Bears, who beat Montana 4-0 on Sunday, the Eagles led 1-0 late before UNC goals in the 76th and 78th minutes resulted in a 2-1 loss.
Eastern Washington let a one-goal lead slip away again on Sunday in its 3-1 loss at North Dakota. The Eagles took 31 shots in the match, 17 of which were on goal. UND won because keeper Kristi Hestdalen made 16 saves in the match to keep it close until two second-half goals provided the difference.
Junior forward Cassie Black, second-team All-Big Sky last year, leads Eastern, the lowest-scoring team in the Big Sky (0.80/g), with four goals. The Eagles have two overtime losses this season and three other 1-0 defeats.
"Eastern is a very good team," Plakorus said. "I say it all the time. A team's record doesn't necessarily represent the quality of the team. Almost every game they've played this season, they've been in. They put themselves in a position to be competitive in every game.
"They work hard together. They are well organized, and they are well coached. We're going to have to come ready to compete and match their intensity. Then we need to play better on the offensive end, create some chances for ourselves and finish those chances."
Most recently: Montana split the North Dakota-Northern Colorado road trip last week.
The Grizzlies had their largest margin of victory this season with a 3-0 victory at UND on Friday. Montana took a season-high 29 shots, but it wasn't until senior Maddey Frey's two second-half goals that the win was secured.
Sophomore Mackenzie Akins opened the scoring in the 19th minute with her third goal of the season. Frey's two goals give her four for the season, a total that leads the team.
Freshman Kailey Norman made her second straight start in goal and came up with one save to record her first collegiate shutout.
On Sunday Montana outshot Northern Colorado 13-12, but the Bears turned three of their five corner kicks into goals in a 4-0 win. Norman made five saves while playing 90 minutes.
History: Montana leads the all-time series with Eastern Washington 10-5-1 and has won three straight, all by shutout. The Grizzlies hold only a 3-2-1 advantage over the Eagles in matches at Missoula.
Montana defeated Eastern Washington 1-0 in the teams' last matchup at South Campus Stadium, in 2011, when Paytyn Wheeler scored in the 86th minute. It was the Grizzlies' first win at home over the Eagles since 2002. The Grizzlies won 4-0 last year at Cheney.
The statistic that continues to define the season: Montana, at 15.7 per game, leads the Big Sky Conference in shots by a healthy margin. But the Grizzlies only rank eighth in goals scored, with 16 in 15 matches (1.07/g).
Thursday in the Big Sky: PSU at WSU, SAC at ISU
Upcoming: Montana will host Northern Arizona on Friday, Oct. 25, at 3 p.m. and Southern Utah on Sunday, Oct. 27, at 1 p.m.
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