Ashley Young

Young

MISSOULA — Seven days after getting shut out at Kalispell Flathead, the Missoula Hellgate girls soccer team made it rain in a playoff win over the Bravettes.

Technically, it was Mother Nature that made it rain Tuesday. But the Knights poured it on in a different way, scoring four first-half goals on their way to a 5-1 win at soggy Rattlesnake Fields.

"That was the best game of the season for us in terms of how they played and interacted with each other off the ball," said Hellgate coach Natalie Hiller-Claridge, whose team will play in the State AA quarterfinal round Saturday against an opponent to be determined. "The chemistry just clicked today, and what a time to do it in the postseason.

"I've always thrived in nasty weather myself, so I kind of talked to the girls about that, reminding them we beat Flathead in the rain back in September and we beat Helena in crazy wind. I just fueled the fire with it."

Junior Ashley Young was a catalyst for Hellgate in the first half. She scored on a counter attack in the fifth minute, using an assist from Lucia Baker. She added another goal late in the half on a feed from Avery Maxwell.

"I was super nervous at the beginning. I think we were all super nervous to start because we lost to them two games ago," Young said. "But we all came ready to perform. We had a really good talk at our last practice, and I think it got everybody in the right head space to start the game."

In the Knights' two regular-season meetings with Flathead, a total of two goals were scored. On top of that, Hellgate hadn't totaled five goals in a game since way back in September against Helena Capital.

So why did it happen in a steady rain Tuesday?

"Really, it was just about the girls taking everything we've been working on all year and putting it together from the back to the front," Hiller-Claridge said. "I'm just so happy how they showed up today.

"I'm not one of those coaches that fears talking about the end of the season. We've been talking State since Day One. They were ready and eager. We had momentum coming into this game."

In addition to Young's two first-half goals, the Knights benefited from scores by Clara Tallent on a free kick and Grace Gibson-Snyder on an assist from birthday girl Georgia Walker-Keleher. Baker scored in the 56th minute on a feed from Walker-Keleher after Flathead tallied its only goal on a shot by Lily Tanko. Hellgate keeper Sophia Pierce finished with 10 saves.

Hellgate boys blank Big Sky

The Hellgate boys took their first step toward what they hope will be a repeat State AA championship with a 10-0 home win over Missoula Big Sky. The Eagles, who were outscored 31-1 in three games against the Knights, bowed out at 0-13-1.

When you've enjoyed as much success as Hellgate and long-time coach Jay Anderson have, it's hard to be completely satisfied, even with a lopsided win. Anderson thought his team performed well Tuesday but saw room for improvement heading into Saturday afternoon's home quarterfinal against an Eastern AA foe to be determined.

"I don't think we accomplished quite what we wanted today," Anderson said. "Moving forward, I want us to continue to move the ball quicker and make quicker decisions because it's just going to be faster-paced games."

That said, it's hard to find too much fault in a team that boasts a 14-0-1 record.

"I love my midfield play," Anderson said. "I have a bunch of different guys that can step up at any given moment. So, if somebody is having an off day, I have another guy in the wings that can step up.

"Depth is important. We have multiple goal scorers, so it's going to be hard for other teams to take one guy out of the lineup because we have a few that can score."

That depth was on full display against the Eagles. Six different Knights recorded a goal.

The list included Beckett Arthur (3), Reggie Duce (2), Cameron McNelis (2), Felix Hahn, Lars Thorne-Thomsen and Ethan Schroeder. Those recording an assist were McNelis (3), Thorne-Thomsen (3), Duce (2) and Marcus Anderson (2). Keepers Loren Deskins and Aidan Anderson combined to register a shutout.

Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 14 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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