MISSOULA — Imitation is never as good as the real thing.
Unless, of course, you're Beckett Arthur and you're talking about the soccer playing surface at Fort Missoula Regional Park.
Arthur and his Missoula Hellgate boys team loves competing on the artificial turf. They claimed a State AA title on Zootown's fast, rubberized pitch last November and on Saturday they overwhelmed Billings Skyview in a rainy quarterfinal clash, 7-1.
"Me and as a team I know we play so much better on this field," said the senior Arthur, one of two Knights to score a hat trick along with Reggie Duce. "We can play faster, we can swing the ball faster. Everything is just a little bit quicker and it's really a satisfying feeling skimming the ball across the field.
"You get the goosebumps remembering the state final here last year."
The notion Hellgate is even better at Fort Missoula has to be scary for its semifinal opponent, Kalispell Glacier, which will come to town Tuesday for a game at 7 p.m. at the lighted venue. The Knights have already beaten the Wolfpack twice, 4-1 and 3-1, with the latter verdict coming on Hellgate's home grass pitch at Rattlesnake Fields.
Hellgate coach Jay Anderson smiles when asked about Fort Missoula, where his team edged Bozeman in a thrilling 2019 state final, 2-1.
"We're a possession-oriented team, and we like to play where the ball lies true and we can use our speed and possession to our advantage," he noted. "It suits other teams too, but we definitely like playing on this field."
Hellgate (15-0-1) set the tone Saturday with three goals in the first 14 minutes. Arthur broke the ice on an assist from Lars Thorne-Thomsen in the 6th minute, then quickly struck again on a feed from Duce. Five minutes later, Duce scored on an assist from Marcus Anderson.
"You can tell that team has experience at this level, has experience in the playoffs being the defending state champion and bringing back a lot of players that know what it takes to win," said Skyview coach Russell Dornisch, whose team bowed out at 6-7-3.
"They know how to start a game and I think our boys were taken a little off guard and took a little for granted at the beginning. Before you know it they throw two in the back of the net. It's hard to come back from that."
Coach Anderson is proud of the way his team continues to improve in late-season practices. These days it really shows up on defense, where keeper Loren Deskins made saves on three of four Skyview shot attempts.
Hellgate's depth of capable scorers also makes the team a handful. Though Arthur and Duce stole the headlines with three goals apiece, Anderson also had a goal and two assists. Lars Thorne-Thomsen pitched in with two assists and Duce added one.
Evan Ruff scored the only goal for Skyview on an assist from Taylor Moore. But the score was 6-0 at that point and coach Anderson had replaced several of his starters.
"Before it started today we had a mentality we're going to go out strong and put some in the net right away so we have the momentum," said Arthur, whose team led 3-0 at halftime. "That was my goal to get two goals early. My teammates set me up really well."
Glacier earned its trip to the semifinals with an overtime win over Billings West, 3-2. In the other semifinal this week, Sentinel will travel to face Bozeman.