Lady Bulldogs head east for championship game
Whitefish forward Ali Hirsch looks to win a 50-50 ball in a Class A semifinal game against Billings Central Saturday at Smith Fields. (Whitney England/Whitefish Pilot)
Whitefish's Brooke Roberts takes the ball down the line in a Class A semifinal game against Billings Central Saturday at Smith Fields. (Whitney England/Whitefish Pilot)
Lady Bulldogs Adrienne Healy (6) and Sophie Olson (4) crash towards Billings Central's goal in an attempt to score in a Class A semifinal game against the Rams Saturday at Smith Fields. (Whitney England/Whitefish Pilot)
The Whitefish girls soccer team celebrates their 1-0 win over Billings Central in the Montana Class A semifinals Saturday at Smith Fields. (Whitney England/Whitefish Pilot)
Reporter | October 28, 2020 1:00 AM
The Billings Central Rams might have expected the Whitefish girls soccer team to put up a competative fight, but they probably didn’t expect the Lady Bulldogs to oust them from the playoffs.
For the last few years, Whitefish has been in the playoff mix but never could quite make it to the finals — until now.
On a bitter cold and windy Saturday afternoon, Whitefish finally achieved its goal of earning a trip to the Class A girls soccer state championship as the girls defeated Billings Central 1-0. For the last seven years the title game has featured only Billings Central and Laurel, but Whitefish has broken that cycle.
“They’ve had a vice grip on the state championship game, those two teams, for a long time,” Whitefish head coach Roland Benedict said. “I’ve actually never beat Billings Central in my coaching career. I think as a team we’re still kind of riding on that game, and that win.”
As the soccer season in Montana reaches late October, the weather can always end up being a factor in a game. Saturday was full of crazy conditions. Volunteer crews cleared more than 5 inches of snow off the pitch prior to the games and strong wind picked up throughout the day.
Despite the conditions, the Lady Bulldogs showed up ready to play the biggest match of the year.
“Throughout the whole week we kept talking to the girls, the game was going to come down to the physical and mental battle,” Benedict said. “Playing Billings Central … they win a lot of games before they even show up and that’s kudos to their program and the reputation they’ve developed.”
“So it was just a matter of creating that belief, I told them if you win the physical battle and you win the mental battle, you can win the game,” he added.
Billings Central was in full on attack mode in the first half and Benedict said Whitefish struggled to get out of its own half because of playing into the strong wind. As the Rams kept the pressure on, the Bulldogs’ defense shined and Whitefish senior goalkeeper Sami Galbraith was a force protecting the net.
“Sami Galbraith played unreal,” Benedict said. “I think she made about four or five saves that were really pivotal, a couple breakaways that she stopped.”
But Benedict was not surprised by his team’s strong defense, he said they’ve held teams to very few goals all season and the girls defensive effort is often the deciding factor between a win and a loss in competitive games.
Despite having few chances of their own in the first half of play, Whitefish carried a clean slate into the second half when the wind was no longer pushing against them. Around 10 minutes into the second half, Billings defender Lily Bland gave a deliberate elbow to the face of Whitefish’s Emma Barron and was presented a red card.
This put the Rams down one player for the remainder of the game and consequently gave the Bulldogs a welcomed lift.
“I think it shows what a great job we did in the game, I think it shows that Billings wasn’t prepared to experience that level of competition when they came up,” Benedict explained while citing that the Rams delivered a 7-0 loss to Whitefish in the semifinals last year and probably weren’t expecting that close of a game.
“For us it was just a validation that things are going to go our way, every game there’s little bits of luck and that’s what you need to win semifinals and win state championships,” Benedict said. “When that happened there was kind of a boost of energy and some belief, the girls going OK let’s go get it; now it’s ours to go win.”
In the 68th minute a jumbled attack in front of Billings Central’s net caused the keeper to drop the ball and Bulldog Adrienne Healy scored the lone goal of the game. Both teams had several opportunities to score again in the game, but in the end Whitefish held on for the semifinal win.
With the victory, Whitefish is set to play Laurel in the state championship on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Laurel.
Benedict said at the start of the season the team made a goal of earning a trip to the finals and giving themselves the opportunity to win a title. Now that they’ve accomplished that goal, the girls are setting their sights on pulling off another huge upset.
“For us it was always, let’s give ourselves a chance, in one soccer game anything can happen,” he said. “That was a goal for us, let’s get to the state final. We did that and now we’ve got to set our new goal; set our sights to figure out how we’re going to handle Laurel and get the result.”
Billings Central 0 0 — 0
Whitefish 0 1 — 1
W - Adrienne Healy, 68:00
Shots on goal - Billings Central 12, Whitefish 6. Goalie saves - Billings Central 1, Whitefish 10 (Sami Galbraith). Corner kicks - Billings Central 5, Whitefish 2. Fouls - Billings Central 12, Whitefish 15. Cards - Billings Central 1.