Never has a third-place finish tasted so sweet.
The Montesano Bulldogs – a team that has earned a trip to the state Final Four three straight years but has tasted nothing but defeat – shook off a bitter semifinal loss a day prior to defeat La Center 3-1 in the 1A State Tournament’s third/fourth-place game on Saturday at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma.
The victory was the first for Montesano in three Final Four trips and the state third-place finish represents the highest placement for a girls soccer team in school history.
“It means that we came together as a team and we made history today,” said Montesano senior Mikayla Stanfield of what the win meant to her. “We’re really close, closer than just about any team I’ve seen and just coming together to win this game was awesome. … Ending on a win for a senior season with this team, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Less than 24 hours after a gut-punch of a 1-0 loss to eventual state-champion Seattle Academy in the semifinal round, the Bulldogs were back in the third-place game for the third straight season, where they had lost by a combined score of 8-0 in the two previous years.
But this go around would be different, the Bulldogs made sure of that.
Playing with the same fervor and physical ball-pressure exhibited the evening before, Montesano quickly asserted its will, something it had not done in a 3-0 loss to La Center in the District 4 Championship game on Nov. 4.
The two teams traded chances for much of the first half as Monte was hindered by picking up the lion’s share of foul calls but persevered to pin the Wildcats in their defensive end for significant periods of time.
In the 28th minute, Montesano’s Riley Timmons, Adda Potts and Jaelyn Butterfield made history together.
Timmons, a senior all-state goal keeper, sent a long goal kick forward that bounced past midfield toward Potts, who took the ball and made a run down the left side hash mark. The junior forward penetrated deep into the penalty area where she sent a short cross to the middle, where a slashing Butterfield ran onto it and one-timed the ball into the top of the net for a 1-0 lead.
(Video courtesy of Ian Cope)
It was the first time Monte has ever led in a state Final Four game.
“I knew she was going to cut it back to me and I knew I had to be in the middle,” Butterfield said of the play. “It just so happened to be perfectly centered where I was and it all happened so quick. It was a really good feeling. I was super overjoyed and I was over the moon with excitement.”
“I know I can always rely on Jaelyn,” Potts said. “I was just hustling down the line and I saw her in the corner of my eye and just cut it back. She hustled through multiple girls to get it in the back of the net. I was so happy. I just wanted to win and help make Monte history.”
In the second half, Montesano doubled its lead when junior midfielder Sam Roundtree made a run down the right sideline before turning near the corner flag and sending a long cross toward the far post.
The ball bounced past the the Wildcats defense and to Bulldogs sophomore midfielder Alexa “Lexi” Stanfield, who shot the ball off the bounce and in off the hands of La Center keeper Sophia Johnson for a 2-0 lead in the 51st minute.
“I was just looking for the cross that Sam (Roundtree) has because she has a really good cross and (head coach) Fidel said to always be ready for those crosses because sometimes they will sneak right through everyone,” Lexi Stanfield said. “I was just always ready and I got my opportunity and I got to shoot it.”
It wouldn’t be long before Roundtree and Lexi Stanfield made an impact once again as just four minutes later, one of Roundtree’s patented long throw-ins toward the penalty box scooted past two La Center defenders – who appeared to be in the throws of miscommunication – and to Lexi Stanfield, who took a step forward and easily booted a low shot past Johnson for a commanding 3-0 lead.
“I’m really glad that Sam had another good (throw) in,” said Lexi Stanfield, who found the ball roll toward her after her older sister Mikayla just missed a header attempt on the ball. “Mikayla tried getting it but missed and I was there to clean it up.”
“I was just so excited for her,” Mikayla said of her younger sister’s two goals in the final game of the season. “All that hard work paid off and seeing those goals, I was just so excited.”
But Monte’s work wasn’t done as – after the Bulldogs made several substitutions to get reserve players in the game with less than 10 minutes to play – La Center standout senior and Rutgers commit, midfielder Shaela Bradley, dribbled to the corner of the 18-yard box and smashed a shot that ripped into the top corner of the net to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 3-1 in the 73rd minute.
Shortly thereafter, La Center was on the move again and nearly made it a one-goal game if not for the brilliance of Timmons in goal.
On a play where the Wildcats forwards got past Monte’s reserves, Timmons came off her line to cut down an angle and block a hard, point-blank shot off the foot of La Center’s Madisen Newbury. The ball rebounded out to another La Center player, who took a low shot that Timmons was also able to save.
Fearing La Center was gaining momentum against his backups, Montesano head coach Fidel Sanchez pulled his reserves and brought most of his starters back on to the field.
A few short minutes later, Timmons and a bit of Montesano luck kept a Wildcats flurry out of the net. Newbury broke free behind the Bulldogs lines and sent a shot that beat Timmons but rang off the far post. A rebounded-shot was then kick-saved by Timmons followed by another rebound-shot that missed just high over the crossbar.
“I was like, ‘I can’t let them score,’ because if they got one more, it gets their momentum up,” Timmons said of her late-game heroics. “(Bradley’s goal) if anything woke us up and kind of let us know that we can’t give up yet and we need to keep going.”
“Riley did great today,” Mikayla Stanfield said. “She did her job. She did it great and we know as a team that we have a great goal keeper back there and so we are confident that if they break through the defense, we have Riley back there.”
That was as close as La Center would get as Monte solidified its defense and midfield the rest of the way to earn the victory and set off a long-awaited celebration among the Monte players, coaches and faithful.
“As a senior it means everything to me,” Timmons said. “It was really important for us to get this third-place game because the last two years – placing fourth – if we would’ve placed fourth again, you can’t look at three fourth-place finishes and know a team was better one year. So us placing third this year shows how much better we were and how much we’ve improved.”
Timmons saved seven of eight shots in the game and four of Monte’s seven shots were on-target.
Sanchez said earning a victory and raising a trophy on the final day of the season is the reward for all their hard work that led up to this moment.
“I think these girls came out wanting to break the cycle of getting fourth place, and the third time was the charm,” Sanchez said. “Ending the season on a win is always good. … It’s rewarding and I want the girls to be rewarded for their hard work and that’s why I wanted them to win this for themselves. … It’s the reward that goes along with the training and preparation that an athlete has to do.”
Montesano 1 2 – 3
La Center 0 1 – 1
First half – 1, Montesano, Butterfield (Potts), 28th minute.