The Columbia Falls Wildcats gave Whitefish its biggest test yet last week, but the Bulldogs pulled through in a 1-0 win.
For a team that can seem to score goals at will, it took Whitefish nearly 60 minutes to get on the scoreboard in the rivalry battle in Columbia Falls.
The Wildcats held Whitefish scoreless until Sam Menicke broke the tie with a goal in the 59th minute, assisted by Brandon Mendoza. That would be the deciding score in the game.
Whitefish put up 11 shots on goal, compared to Columbia Falls’ four, and Colter Upton had saves on all four.
Head coach John Lacey said he was expecting a tough match, and he wasn’t disappointed.
“We always know Columbia Falls is a big game. They are well-coached, they’re organized and strong on defense, and they have a good goalkeeper. They always make it hard to play, especially over there at their place,” Lacey said. “We didn’t get on the board in the first half, which just made for a tighter contest in the second half than we’re used to.”
Lacey also noted the battle could be a preview of playoff soccer. Last year the Dogs had a similar 1-0 win over Frenchtown en route to the state championship.
Tough games like last week’s put his team’s mental toughness to the test, Lacey said.
“Certainly the longer the game goes and it’s still just 0-0, the need to focus and avoid mistakes is important,” he said. “We didn’t play scared, we played aggressive the whole way. But we’ve had a cushion for a lot of the year, where if you’re ahead that urgency naturally kind of goes away. The focus that comes from a tight game is good for us.”
The Dogs found their groove again on Thursday during Senior Night, when they blew out Bigfork 7-1.
Whitefish led 3-0 at the half, with James Thompson Menicke and Riley Arendt finding the net. Chase Sabin assisted on the first two scores.
It was the same story in the second half. Ian Lacey kicked things of with a goal in the 53rd minute, assisted by Menicke.
Bigfork’s Ben Pilskans got the Vikings on the board in the 53rd minute, but the Bulldogs finished things off with a trio of goals in the final 10 minutes.
Darby McCarthy, Mendoza and Marvin Kimera scored in the 72nd, 77th and 78th minute.
Whitefish amassed 20 shots on goal to Bigfork’s four.
Lacey said it was a nice send-off game for his seniors, though they’ve already clinched home field for the playoffs, so they’ll at least get one more game at Smith Fields.
“I’m just really proud of all our seniors and the contributions they’ve all made,” he said. “It was fun to celebrate them and their careers. That senior night is something special and we’re thankful to everyone who came out and supported us.”
The team will get its second look at Polson in a road game on Thursday at 5 p.m. before traveling to Libby on Saturday for the final game of the regular season. That starts at noon.
With the division title already wrapped up, Lacey said the focus is mostly on staying healthy before the playoffs, though he says his players still have a point of pride they want to defend.
“Certainly with first place in the conference all shored up, we want to keep everyone healthy. Neither of these two games will affect what happens to us in the playoffs,” he said. “While the actual result may not necessarily change our season, I know these guys take a lot of pride in the last two years and they want to keep the undefeated season going.”
Whitefish 0 1 — 1
Columbia Falls 0 0 — 0
W — Sam Menicke (Brandon Mendoza) 59:00
Shots on goal — Whitefish 11, Columbia Falls 4; Goalie saves — Whitefish 4 (Colter Upton), Columbia Falls 10 (Story Stemborski); Corner kicks — Whitefish 6, Columbia Falls 2; Fouls — Whitefish 15, Columbia Falls 8; Cards — None.
Bigfork 0 1 — 1
Whitefish 3 4 — 7
W — James Thompson (Chase Sabin) 23:00
W — Sam Menicke (Sabin) 27:00
W — Riley Arendt (Darby McCarthy) 40:00
W — Ian Lacey (S. Menicke) 53:00
B — Ben Pilskans 60:00
W — McCarthy 72:00
W — Brandon Mendoza (Aaron Dicks) 77:00
W — Marvin Kimera (Gabe Menicke) 78:00
Shots on goal — Bigfork 4, Whitefish 20; Goalie saves — Bigfork 13 (Caden Riedesel), Whitefish 3 (Bradlee Anderson, Joe Brandt); Corners — Bigfork 0, Whitefish 8; Fouls — Bigfork 5, Whitefish 7