MISSOULA — Coach Jay Anderson called the first half of Missoula Hellgate’s 3-0 win over Billings Skyview in the Class AA boys soccer state quarterfinals lethargic.
Playing the Saturday match at Playfair Park due to snow covering the pitch at Rattlesnake fields, junior Reggie Duce had already knocked in a goal in the 21st minute off an assist from Marcus Anderson and the Knights led 1-0 at the break. But the match had been a bit of a slog.
There were not any serious defensive lapses from Hellgate, but Knight passes around the Skyview goal were not being finished and as such the game was still tight at halftime.
The second half, however, was a different story.
Lars Thorne-Thomsen scored two minutes into the final period, followed moments later by Duce’s second of the day in the 46th minute.
“We pounced on them early in the half and it dictated the tone for the second half,” Anderson said. “Moving forward we have to start stronger. We can’t let other teams get into it and get comfortable.”
For Hellgate, the match could not have gone much better over the final 40 minutes. The field started to open up a bit and passes inside started getting to the right players.
Anderson assisted on all three goals — he now has 21 assists on the season — and his passing was again pinpoint accurate. As the game moved along, the ball got to him on the outside more and more, with the junior midfielder directing it back inside with a cool ease.
“It was working well on the inside, getting those one-two (passes) and then sometimes playing it through,” Marcus Anderson said. “And I’ve also been gaining confidence all season long to take guys on. That really helps.”
Duce now has four goals and an assist in two postseason games. His coach was impressed with the form, but really, Anderson said, that extends to the entire Knight squad.
Hellgate has scored 11 goals in the first two rounds of the Class AA playoffs and looks as if it just might make its fifth-straight state championship game. The Knights' quest for the state’s first soccer four-peat was cut short by two Bozeman goals in the 2018 championship game.
Those two Hawk goals last autumn? Well, they came in the first half.
And while Hellgate is not looking past Helena Capital, who they will play on Tuesday in Missoula in the state semifinals, Bozeman does loom on the other side of the bracket.
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Coming out strong in the first half could decide just how far the Knights can go.
“I feel like our team, when we get a goal early, we just build off of it and we play much better because we got a lot more momentum for us,” Duce said. “I think it’s important for us to score early.”
Billings West girls 2, Hellgate 1
It was heartbreak on one bench and jubilation on the other.
Tied in the 79th minute, Billings West’s Jillian Hust found the ball just outside of the six-yard box and slammed it past diving Hellgate keeper Sophie Pierce. The shot gave the Golden Bears a 2-1 win in the Class AA girls state soccer quarterfinals at Playfair Park.
It also gave Hust a moment she will not soon forget.
“I was so excited and I can’t even imagine we’re going to semis, especially with this young of a team,” Hust said. “We all work hard for each other.”
After a scoreless first half, West managed to get on the scoreboard with a goal from Chloe Davies. A scramble around the Hellgate goal ended with Davies managing to trickle a shot off the hands of Pierce to give the Golden Bears a 1-0 lead.
Hellgate then equalized in the 66th minute, as the ball was played across the front of the net before being deflected out. Lucia Baker found the ball and before West keeper Kendell Ellis could get back across, the sophomore Knight midfielder sneaked the ball in.
“It was just a battle the whole time, both teams were going for it and I thought we did well,” Hellgate coach Ian Marshall said. “We just got kinda unlucky there and they have some really good players. They’re dangerous and they put us on our heels.
“But we battled until the end and we just couldn’t get another one in there."
West will take on Kalispell Glacier in Kalispell on Tuesday in the state semifinals. The winner of that game faces either Bozeman or Billings Skyview in the state championship.