The Montesano Bulldogs are back in the final four, and it took some big-time playmakers making clutch plays to get there.
A goal generated by its two top-scoring forwards — Mikalya Stanfield and Lilly Causey — and a key save from goal keeper Riley Timmons as time expired secured Montesano’s 1-0 win over Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls) in the 1A State Tournament quarterfinals on Saturday in Montesano, sending Monte to the state final four in Shoreline next weekend.
It didn’t come easy as Montesano (18-2 overall) was put on its heels throughout the first half as the Eagles (15-4) played a heavy ball-pressure style that wreaked havoc on Monte’s patient possession game.
It began to pay dividends for Lakeside early on as Monte keeper Riley Timmons was forced to make three saves in the first 21 minutes of play, including a spectacular leaping deflection to keep out a hard shot headed for the top left corner in the 20th minute.
“That was a beautiful save,” Montesano head coach Fidel Sanchez said. “That was going in.”
A minute later, Timmons was called upon again to make a save on a shot off a corner kick, deflecting the ball — which then ricocheted off the bottom of the crossbar and away from the net — to keep the game scoreless.
Sanchez said much of the Eagles’ success against his team in the first half was not just due to their physical nature of their play, but the mental impacts it was having on his players.
“It was here,” he said, pointing to his head. “They knocked us down. … We are more of a passing-possession team and (Lakeside) was just going and going and it disrupted what we did. … That’s what they do in their league. We’re not used to that. We don’t see play like that in the 1A Evergreen or even in our district. … I don’t know if they were the better team in the first half, but they were the better physical team in the first half and that’s what got us off of what we were doing.”
The physical, ball-pressure style of play exhibited by the Eagles also began to produce multiple foul calls and yellow cards to Lakeside players and sustained possession, but no goals as Timmons and the Monte defense bent, but didn’t break.
With Montesano managing just one off-target shot in the first half — a high, hard missile off the foot of Stanfield that just missed the top-far corner in the first minute — the Bulldogs were relieved to be locked in a scoreless tie at halftime.
But the first half was also a wake-up call as to the caliber of opponent the Bulldogs were facing.
“I think we came into the game not mentally prepared,” Montesano senior midfielder and co-captain Vanna Prom said. “I feel like we kind of thought we had it handed to us. At halftime (Sanchez) told us, ‘You guys still have this. It’s 0-0 and the game is not over.’ He just pepped us up and the momentum came and we kept pushing.”
In the second half, the Bulldogs did a better job of matching the Eagles’ energy and aggression after a halftime speech that was part pep-talk, part chew-out from the coaching staff.
“At halftime, we challenged the girls,” Sanchez said. “We said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to step up. You are not playing to your standard. I don’t care if they hit you. I don’t care if they are physical. You have to rise above that.’”
Montesano started getting more possession — which led to more shots — in the second half as the game continued to be a physical battle through the midfield.
Then Monte’s top two scorers combined to send a shock wave throughout Jack Rottle Field.
Montesano senior forward Lilly Causey dribbled through the Eagles defensive third and made a touch that allowed her to find some space between two defender.
Eagles keeper Kalylyn Randazzo and defender Tavyn Myhren converged on Causey as the Monte senior cocked her right leg back to fire off a shot.
The ball was deflected off Myhren’s legs and trickled over to the open side of the goalie box.
Stanfield trailed the play and outran Eagles defender Brooklyn More, sliding to get her feet to the ball and send it across the line for a 1-0 lead in the 65th minute.
“All it takes is one goal and I cannot wait to watch the film on that goal,” Sanchez said. “What a clutch goal and in the last part of the second half too. That’s a confidence-killer. It cut (Lakeside’s) confidence and they had a ton of confidence in this game.”
Lakeside moved numbers up over the final 15 minutes of the contest in hopes of scoring the equalizer while Monte went to a defensive 4-5-1 formation in hopes of holding the precarious lead.
“We’ve been to penalty kick three times now and that’s not fun for anybody. It’s not fair to our goalie (Timmons) either because she does an amazing job,” Prom said of how Monte handled the late-game stress. “I feel like during the pressure we mostly depended on each other. … We just kind of trusted each other and everybody did their job.”
Deep into stoppage time, a desperate Lakeside team sent a corner kick that was headed just over the crossbar.
On the subsequent goal kick, Lakeside won the ball on the sideline and was able to move the ball into the Monte 18-yard box. A deflection then caused the ball to slide in an open space between two Monte defenders, where Lakeside midfielder Hailey Axel raced to win possession.
The freshman speedster took a dribble and sent an angled, on-target shot headed to the far post.
Timmons came up clutch once again, blocking the shot then securing a spinning rebound with Eagles attackers pouring in on her to keep the Montesano lead.
When Timmons rose to her feet, the referee blew the final whistle, sending Montesano to the state semifinals for the second-straight season.
“That was the longest 15 minutes of my coaching career,” Sanchez said. “We were under attack the whole time. … I think based on how the game was going, we went into the 4-5-1 formation because we wanted to keep the lead and not give it up and it almost cost us at the end.”
The game was the first state soccer quarterfinal hosted at Jack Rottle Field and Monte will be looking to improve upon last season’s fourth-place finish.
“At the end of practice, we told (the team), ‘This is our house,’” Sanchez said. “It’s the first time this program has hosted a state quarterfinal, back-to-back final fours. Last year a lot of people said, ‘You lost everybody. You are going to be average,’ and we’re back.”
Fourth-seed Monte will face No. 1 Klahowya (17-1) — which defeated the Bulldogs 5-0 in last season’s state third/fourth-place game — in a state-semifinal matchup at 3 p.m. Friday at Shoreline Stadium.
“We’re just super-excited,” Prom said. “We’re going to go for No. 1.”