MISSOULA — The Stevensville girls soccer team went to bed Tuesday night thinking that its year was over after ending its regular season on a positive note with a win hours earlier.

The Yellowjackets woke up Wednesday to news they aren’t finished yet.

Stevensville was moved into the State A playoff bracket for Thursday’s play-in game to replace South No. 3 seed Loyola Sacred Heart, which forfeited its spot because COVID-19 cases have left the Breakers without enough players to field a team, Stevensville athletic director Chance Edman told the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com. Loyola officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“We ended (Tuesday), and everyone, especially the seniors, was sad,” Stevensville coach Alli Emery said. “They were saying 'bye' and 'thanks', and our group chat was exploding (Tuesday) night with the seniors saying thanks for letting us have a great four years. This morning, everyone woke up to a message that Loyola was out, which is sad for them but good for us.”

The Yellowjackets finished fourth with a 2-3-2 record in conference play and had an overall record of 3-6-2. Loyola finished third and earned the final playoff spot after losing to Stevensville on Tuesday while fielding 11 players, the minimum, according to Emery.

Per MHSA policy, Stevensville as the fourth-place finisher was the next team in line for a playoff spot when Loyola pulled out, according to Edman and Hamilton athletic director Travis Blome, whose team will now host the playoff game with Stevensville.

The Yellowjackets will play at South No. 2 seed Hamilton at 6 p.m. Thursday in the lone play-in game in the State A tournament. The teams played to two 0-0 ties in their regular-season meetings.

“We’re taking Loyola’s spot because they’re dealing with some COVID issues on their campus and couldn’t field a team, which I wish it was under better circumstances,” Edman said. “I sent out the message on our team communication app, and there was lots of excitement there, lots of parents wanting tickets to go and watch.”

Emery might be among the youngest to ever coach in a girls soccer playoff game in Montana. A former Stevensville player, she’s a sophomore at Portland State who decided to help as an assistant coach because her college classes are online.

Emery was recently promoted to acting head coach, which she said is because coach Nick Giese has been sidelined because of a red card. This playoff game will be her fourth as a head coach, she said.

With a new life on the pitch, Stevensville is in the playoffs for the third time in four years. The Yellowjackets lost their first game in their previous two appearances in 2017 and 2019.

The winner of the play-in game will host Billings Central, the East No. 2 seed, at 1 p.m. Saturday in the quarterfinals.

“I think everyone’s shocked to be playing,” Emery said. “But it’s nerve-wracking too because you feel like it’s all done, and then you wake up, and it’s like, ‘Oh, psych.’”

Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at frank.gogola@missoulian.com.

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