Montesano at times dominated play and created several prime scoring chances. But the Bulldogs failed to cash in, leading to a gut-wrenching 1-0 loss to Seattle Academy in a 1A State semifinal game on Friday at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma.
The Bulldogs (14-6-2 overall), which struggled to gain any traction in its previous two state semifinal games, played a competitive brand of soccer by executing head coach Fidel Sanchez’s game plan that included aggressive on-ball pressure and taking away what Seattle Academy (17-2-2) wanted to do on offense.
Montesano had six shots in the first half, with its most dangerous chances coming on a free kick from senior midfielder Bethanie Henderson from 30-yards out that was saved by Cardinals keeper Avery Murch in the 26th minute and a shot that just sailed wide on a breakaway from freshman forward Jaelyn Butterfield two minutes later.
“The girls played the plan to perfection because Seattle Academy wasn’t doing much of anything in the first half,” Sanchez said. “We did good things. We denied a lot of their stuff.”
With the game locked in a scoreless tie, the Cardinals applied pressure early in the second half with two corner kicks and several wide runs that turned into threatening crosses in the first 10 minutes.
The Cardinals converted when Eloise Maddox ran onto a diagonal cross and made a leaping one-time shot past diving Monte goal keeper Riley Timmons for a 1-0 lead in the 54th minute.
“They got loose one time and in these games, if they get loose one time, they put it away and make you pay,” Sanchez said. “As soon as it happened, I was like,’That was the play we’ve been trying to avoid all night and they got one through.’”
Monte weathered a few more Cardinals scoring chances in the second half, with Timmons making a diving save on a shot off a cross in the 58th minute to keep the game at 1-0.
The Bulldogs offense followed with four excellent scoring chances inside the Cardinals 18-yard box in a seven-minute span.
Montesano senior forward Mikayla Stanfield had a good look at an open shot but sailed it high and wide in the 64th minute.
Two minutes later, pressure from Monte forward Adda Potts led to a frantic play in front of the Seattle Academy goal after a ball was sent into the penalty area. A Stanfield shot was ruled to have gone off the hand of a Seattle Academy defender, earning the Bulldogs a penalty kick in the 67th minute.
Stanfield stepped to the spot to take the kick and blistered a hard shot to her right, but Murch guessed correctly, sliding to her left to swallow up the attempt and preserve Seattle Academy’s 1-0 lead.
Shortly thereafter, Butterfield got behind the Cardinals defense on a Henderson through pass, but was met at the point of attack by Murch, who wrapped herself around the ball just as Butterfield attempted to flick it into the net.
Butterfield broke lose behind the Seattle Academy defense again in the 71st minute, putting a hard shot on goal that was deflected off the chest of the oncoming Murch and deflected off target.
Montesano continued to apply pressure as Seattle Academy turtled up in a defensive shell until the final whistle blew, ending the game and denying the Bulldogs a shot at a state title for the third-straight season.
“We denied everything they were planning for. We knew how they were going to play and we took it away and our counter (attack) was on point tonight. It was a beautiful counter. We just could not get that quality finish,” Sanchez said. “It’s heartbreaking because we played a really good game. The girls executed everything well tonight and we still lost. That’s the demoralizing piece of it. And we had everything going for us in the second half. … I’m hurting for my players because they worked so hard to get this and they just came up short.”
With the loss, Monte will play in the state’s third/fourth-place game for the third-consecutive season.
The Bulldogs will have little time to lick their wounds as they’ll face La Center – who lost to defending state-champion Klahowya 3-0 in the other state semifinal – at 1 p.m. Saturday at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma.
Montesano 0 0 – 0
Seattle Academy 0 1 – 1
First half – None.
Second half – 1, Seattle Academy, Maddox, 58th minute.