Lady Bulldogs succumb to Laurel in OT heart-breaker

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Reporter | November 3, 2020 2:00 PM

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Whitefish's Sophie Olson (4) kicks the ball during the Laurel Locomotives' game against the Whitefish Bulldogs at Laurel High School in Laurel on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (Mike Clark/Billings Gazette)

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Laurel's Mya Maack (5) and Whitefish's Maya Lacey (16) get tangled up during the Laurel Locomotives' game against the Whitefish Bulldogs at Laurel High School in Laurel on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (Mike Clark/Billings Gazette)

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The Whitefish girls soccer team huddles up before the start of the game in Laurel. (Photo courtesy Amy Olson)

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Whitefish's Isabelle Cooke (5) and Laurel's Allison Shovar (1) get tangled up during the Laurel Locomotives' game against the Whitefish Bulldogs at Laurel High School in Laurel on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (Mike Clark/Billings Gazette)

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Whitefish keeper Sami Galbraith snags the ball during the game Saturday in Laurel. (Photo courtesy Amy Olson)

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Bulldog junior Anna Akey dribbles the ball against Laurel Saturday in the championship game. (Photo courtesy Amy Olson)

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Whitefish's Emma Barron (11) jumps on Whitefish's Anna Akey (15) after Barron scored a goal during the Laurel Locomotives' game against the Whitefish Bulldogs at Laurel High School in Laurel on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (Mike Clark/Billings Gazette)

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Whitefish's Emma Barron (11) reacts after a goal during the Laurel Locomotives' game against the Whitefish Bulldogs at Laurel High School in Laurel on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (Mike Clark/Billings Gazette)

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Whitefish's Sami Galbraith (1) deflects a shot on goal by Laurel's Mya Maack (5) during the Laurel Locomotives' game against the Whitefish Bulldogs at Laurel High School in Laurel on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (Mike Clark/Billings Gazette)

After a heartbreaking finish in the state championship game Saturday, the Lady Bulldogs aren’t bringing home a first place trophy this year — instead they have a new hunger, a new standard.

Whitefish faced Laurel, a decorated girls soccer program that has been in the state final for the past seven consecutive years and won three out of the last four championship games, and sure gave them a heck of a time. The Locomotives trailed most of the game, but tied it up in the final 10 minutes of regulation, before scoring in the first overtime period to defeat the Bulldogs 3-2.

“Laurel is a tough place to play, they’re a tough group of girls,” Whitefish head coach Roland Benedict said. “We handled their pressure, weathered the storm and you know couldn’t hold on at the end. But I think we can hold our heads high and be proud of the game that we played.”

Whitefish played with Laurel and matched their intensity throughout the game. In the 31st minute the Locomotives were called for one of their 27 fouls in the match. This gave Whitefish’s Emma Barron an opportunity to drill a free kick from just outside of the box, which ricocheted off the left upper post and past the goal line. The Bulldogs maintained the narrow lead for most of the game before Barron easily put away a goal on another set piece, this time a penalty kick in the 62nd minute.

“She strikes a fantastic soccer ball and some girls don’t want to take free kicks, they don’t want to take penalties, they don’t like the pressure, but she loves it,” Benedict said. “Both of our goals came from set pieces and Emma put both of them away with authority.”

Whitefish led 2-0 with less than 20 minutes remaining before things started to go south for the visiting team. Just two minutes after Barron nailed the penalty shot, Laurel’s Maeson Cotter fired a zinger from the top of the box catching Whitefish goalkeeper Sami Galbraith off guard; that narrowed the lead to 2-1. Then with only 10 minutes remaining in regulation, Locomotive Grace Wagner booted the ball from 40 yards out which barely sailed over the glove of Galbraith.

Tied at two-all, the Locomotives late effort pushed the match to overtime.

“It was just heartbreaking, we had been playing so well and a little bit of luck went Laurel’s way in that moment,” Benedict said. “Overtime is hard, especially when you’re the team that was leading and the other team pegged you back, and especially when that team’s at home.”

In the first overtime period Laurel’s Mya Maack jumped on a through ball inside the box and was able to tap it past Galbraith for the go-ahead goal and what ended up being the title-clincher.

According to Benedict, his keeper was hard on herself for letting the Locomotives’ three goals of the game sneak past her, but she still played a fantastic game. Galbraith was a senior captain this season and her leadership shined throughout the game. She recorded 18 saves, which is the most she’d been tested all year.

“She’s by far and away at the single A level, and definitely in our valley and in Missoula, she’s the best female goalkeeper in the state,” Benedict said. “She loves the game, she’s a leader… she’s going to have a good time playing at the next level. (In the finals) she played phenomenal… hats off to Sami, she’s been a true professional, awesome quality kid and captain this year for the program.”

The Bulldogs finish their season 11-1-1 and were the Northern A conference champions after the regular season. It was Whitefish’s first time back at the Class A state final since 2013 and the last time the Lady Bulldogs won the championship was in 2006.

As far as next season goes, Whitefish only graduates two seniors — Galbraith and Ali Hirsch — and Benedict assures that he has a lineup of girls ready to go, “chomping at the bit” to get on the field.

“I see us going to the state final next year, I mean that has to be the goal,” he said. “Now that you’ve tasted it, that’s the standard.”

And as Benedict and his team look forward to the future of the program and continuing to build success, he knows this trip to the state finals was a stepping stone for the future.

“I think we did the program, our school and our community proud,” he concluded.

W - Emma Barron, 31:00

W - Barron, 62:00

L - Maeson Cotter, 64:00

L - Grace Wagner, 70:00

L - Mya Maack, (OT)

Shots on goal - Whitefish 5, Laurel 21. Goalie saves - Whitefish 18 (Sami Galbraith), Laurel 1 (Anna Cole). Corner kicks – Whitefish 1, Laurel 7. Fouls - Whitefish 9, Laurel 27.