The early game jitters were long gone. Now it was time for the Lady Rams to do what they do best — win.
Holly Davison scored two goals, including the go-ahead goal in overtime, as Billings Central outlasted Hamilton 4-1 on Saturday morning to win its fourth straight Class A girls soccer championship.
Playing in winds gusting up to 55 miles per hour at Rocky Mountain College, the two teams played a scoreless second half before the Lady Rams broke through with two goals in the first 10-minute overtime period and never looked back.
The remarkable Rams finished the season 13-1 and are now 57-1 over the past four seasons.
“Before the overtime, we just talked about all the work we’ve put in all season,” said Central senior Kayla Lucas, who had a goal and an assist in the win. “This is what we’ve been working for ... we just had to go out and do it.
“When they won the coin flip (to start overtime) and gave us the wind for the first overtime, we knew we had to capitalize on it.”
The Rams did just that, as Davison scored just under four minutes into the first overtime. Chasing a rebound in front of the goal, Davison was in the right place at the right time — knocking the ball into the left side of the net after an attempted clearing kick by a Hamilton defender.
From there, the Rams were off and rolling. Two minutes later, Davison and Allie Lucas charged in on a 2-on-1 and Davison was there to bang in the rebound after Hamilton goalie Marina McGourty got a hand on Lucas’ shot.
“The nerves got to us at the start of the game,” said Davison, a junior forward who finished the season with 18 goals. “This is pretty much a new team this year, so this was our first chance at a championship. But we never doubted each other and Laurie (coach Laurie Stergar) never doubted us.”
Stergar said she also never doubted the talent of the Hamilton team, which entered the championship on an 11-match winning streak after starting the season 0-2.
“We beat them 8-1 back in August, but they didn’t have all their players that day,” she said. “Hamilton is a good team and they’re very well-coached. They came out hungry and our girls got a little frazzled by Hamilton’s bigger, stronger girls and by the wind.
“But once we got to overtime, I told the girls that this was our game. Our motto is ‘Believe in the run ... love overtime’. And our girls did. They embraced the overtime and they got after it.”
The Lucas sisters each scored a goal for Central. Allie Lucas finished the season with a team-high 20 goals and seven assists.
Central goalie Hadley Ryan, also a junior, had just two saves — but both were diving stops on Hamilton shots from close range.
“Hadley played great,” said Stergar. “We rely on her so much ... we purposely let a lot of balls roll through because we want her to grab the ball. Our back row has great communication with Hadley and that was the case again today.”
Sami Kroatofil gave Hamilton a 1-0 lead with 13:08 left in the first half, but Allie Lucas tied the score on a goal assisted by her sister less than a minute later. That 1-1 tie held for the next 46 minutes until Davison scored in the first overtime.
“I think the nerves were gone when Hamilton scored that first goal,” said Allie Lucas, a sophomore forward. “Once we got going, we learned how to calm down. It wasn’t easy in the wind. We couldn’t control the ball very well ... we just had to keep it on the ground as much as we could.”
Hamilton coach Greg Shifflett said the Broncs took a gamble on the wind in overtime, choosing to play against the west-to-east gusts in the first 10-minute period.
“I talked about it on the bench with our captains,” he said. “The consensus was that we were playing well and that we wanted to start overtime the same way we started the game (against the wind). We got through the first half of the overtime OK before Central got that first goal. After that, we had to go with an extra forward and that made it tough on the defensive end.
“Our girls played a great game ... we don’t have anything to hang our heads about. Central is an outstanding team. We came out and played confident and played right with them for 80-plus minutes and had our chances to win.”
McGourty had four saves for the Broncs, who finished the season with a 12-3 record.
Stergar said this championship ranks among the most satisfying of the Rams’ four straight.
“This one is amazing,” she said. “For me, this one compares to the first one. These girls built themselves from the ground up. We only have five players back and only three starters back from last year. I knew last year’s team was going to win the championships ... they were so experienced and so mentally strong.
“This year was like starting over. These girls were handed a target on their back ... they hadn’t earned it, but it was still on there. These last three weeks in the playoffs they took ownership of that target and made it their own. I am so proud of these girls.”