BILLINGS — It was fitting the match came down to a shootout.
Evenly played and featuring plenty of momentum swings, Billings Central and Livingston were tied 2-2 at the end of regulation and 4-4 after overtime, which included two 10-minute extra sessions.
In the end, and with the sunlight starting to fade, the Rams outshot the Rangers 4-3 in the shootout to claim the Class A boys soccer state play-in victory Monday at Wendy’s Field at Rocky Mountain College.
For the Rams, Felipe Gnecco, Sam Dull, Camden Capser and goalie Myles Ragar converted their shootout attempts. For Livingston, Gus Schulein, Tristan Stenseth and Nathan Brown were successful in the shootout.
With both teams having made three penalty kicks in the shootout, Ragar put in his attempt to give the Rams the advantage. The 6-foot-5 sophomore then blocked the Rangers’ final attempt and the Rams ran to the goal in celebration. Ragar made two saves in the shootout.
“I’ve taken a couple in my life,” Ragar said of making the shootout kick. “I wasn’t nervous and stayed composed. I was confident in myself.”
Ragar said shootouts are stressful. Of six opportunities, the Rams made shots No. 1, 4, 5 and 6. The Rangers were successful on shots No. 2, 4 and 5.
“It’s really nerve-racking. You know if they miss you have to help them out,” he said. “It’s a nerve-racking situation.”
Central will now play Corvallis in the quarterfinals of the State A soccer tournament this weekend. The date and time will be finalized and announced on Tuesday.
“We played well. We put together two really good halves of soccer and two halves of OT,” Rams coach Nolan Trafton said. “I don’t think any coach wants to go to a shootout. I like how my boys responded to the ups and downs and the momentum swings.”
Dull scored the Rams first goal with 33:54 on the clock in the first. Adam Mathias answered for Livingston with 9:45 remaining in the half and it was 1-1 at the break.
Stenseth scored the first of his three goals with 25:29 remaining on a free kick in the second half. Gnecco evened the score at 2-2 with 5:58 left in regulation.
In the first 10-minute portion of overtime before the two teams switched sides, Gnecco found the net with 8:27 on the scoreboard.
The 3-2 Rams’ lead would not last long as Stenseth scored at 7:53 and 5:16 of the second 10-minute extra session. Needing a score, the Rams’ Isaac Hanser put the ball in the net at 2:34 for a 4-4 match.
The Rams’ girls soccer team, which will host Polson in a Class A soccer tournament quarterfinal match this weekend at Wendy’s Field at RMC, had a practice session on the grass adjacent to Wendy’s Field but found their way to the cheering section to root on the Central boys and when Gnecco’s goal tied the score at 2-2 late in the second half, the Rams’ faithful erupted in cheer.
“That was really good to see. They got a little light one in and their one job was to be loud and proud,” Trafton said. “They did a good job. I could hear them from here.”
Gnecco said hearing the girls soccer team and the rest of the fans “motivated” the Rams, and they “didn’t want to let our school down.”
“I just wanted to step up and do everything I could,” Gnecco said of his two goals. “I want to be there for my teammates and not let them down.”
Livingston coach Jeff Dickerson said Stenseth, a junior midfielder/forward, has been a stellar player for the Rangers all season.
“He’s been leading the state and playing great for us,” Dickerson said. “He missed a game for sickness a week ago. We are pretty happy with him.”
Dickerson said he was proud of the way his team played this season. Livingston has one senior, Mathias, listed on the roster. Dickerson also noted that although Livingston had a player ejected from the match, the Rangers found a way to compete.
“We’ve been closely matched,” he said. “I feel like we outplayed them today, especially since we were down a player for 60 minutes. I’m proud of our team playing down 10 vs. 11.”