Eagles Fall to Grizzlies in Big Sky Season Opener, 1-0

Montana scores dagger off a free kick in the final five minutes of contest

After holding off the Grizzlies for 85 minutes, the Eastern Washington university women's soccer team conceded a goal off a free kick late in the game, allowing Montana to escape with a 1-0 victory in the first Big Sky Conference match of the season on Friday (Sept. 30) in Missoula, Mont.

At the 85:10 mark, Montana drew a foul deep in Eagle territory and was awarded a free kick a few yards outside the box. Montana's Ashley Tombelain lined up and fired a strong shot off the set piece. Her shot hit the crossbar, but junior Lauren McCreath was able to get a head on the rebound and sent the ball to teammate Paytyn Wheeler, who was ready on the post. Wheeler slipped the ball past the EWU defense for the game winner.

"[junior goalkeeper] Jamie Walker covered the set piece pretty well," said head coach George Hageage. "The ball just happened to deflect the wrong way. It was almost like a designed pass off the crossbar … that's how perfect it was."

It was another physical game for the Eagles, just as they were expecting in conference. Freshman Katie Cashman was charged with a red card for the late foul that led to Montana's free kick, while senior Whitney Brannan was booked with a yellow in the first period.

But it came down to scoring once again, as Eastern wasn't able to take advantage of the several opportunities it created. 

Twice, shots hit the cross bar only to bounce out. The first was a shot from Brannan that she hit from the left corner of the box. The second time, freshman Cassie Black fired a shot that grazed the wrong side of the post. 

"I thought the girls played well, especially with how physical Montana was," said Hageage. "Whitney had five shots, which showed we definitely had some opportunities, but we didn't create near as many corner kicks as we should have."

The Eagles had one corner kick to Montana's four.

Walker, the defending Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week, had another solid game, finishing with five total saves.

"Jamie played really well again, but we just can't seem to reward that with a score," said Hageage. "It was a really hard fought Big Sky game, but like most conference games, it's hard to beat a team on their home field."

The Eagles will return to Cheney for a pair of conference matches against Portland State and Sacramento State on Friday (Oct. 7) and Sunday (Oct. 9), respectively.

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