The Grizzlies lost 14-9 to Montana State Saturday night in the Copper Cup at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The loss ended a five-game winning streak for 14th-ranked Montana and the Griz are now 6-5 overall and 2-0 within their conference. The Bobcats have beaten Montana every year since 2015.
“We had some unforced turnovers and we knew that the Bobcats were going to want to force transition and take advantage of the man-up,” Griz head coach Tucker Sargent said. “I think we lost our heads and focus because we haven’t beat this team in a few years. There is a lot of nervous energy.”
Senior goalie Andrew Moesel led the Griz to a hot start with some big saves in the first quarter. Montana’s strong defense early in the game helped keep shooters away from the goal, forcing the Bobcats to take long shots.
But as the game wore on, the Cats attackmen ran loose around the crease, a circle around the lacrosse goal marking the goalie’s area, and Moesel didn’t stand a chance in repeated one-on-one standoffs.
“Earlier in the game we were forcing the ball inside when there was nothing there,” Montana State head coach Chris Kelley said. “We tried to move the ball early in the possession (in the second quarter), and tried to get the defense moving.”
The Grizzlies jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead that grew to four when sophomore Miguel Gen- eroso scored on an extra-man opportunity with a minute to go in the first quarter. But 30 seconds later, Kyler Walterson scored a goal for Montana State, starting a run for the Cats.
“We were playing hot,” Griz freshman Carson Smith said. Smith posted two goals and an assist in the game. “We were playing like we wanted to play. I think we just kind of lost that momentum, but we had that in the beginning.”
Junior Montana State attackman Alexander Brown scored on a backhand wraparound shot on a drive, cutting Montana’s lead to 4-2. He scored again two minutes later when he found himself open on the crease after beating his man with a face dodge.
The Cats tied the game 4-4 with nine minutes left in the first half when Jack Pugh scored on an open shot from 10 yards out. Montana State’s offense peppered Moesel with shots, and two found their way between his legs from just a few steps out. The Griz trailed 6-4 with two minutes left in the first half.
“This is a game of runs, but what you want to prevent is them scoring multiple goals in a row,” Sargent said. “You gotta go out and get the next one.”
Hayden Smith scored from eight yards in front of the goal after a teammate drew a double-team and found him for the open shot. Smith had time to wind up and Cats goalie Peter Nichols didn’t stand a chance.
Nichols made 19 saves on 28 shots Saturday. The Grizzlies’ struggled to generate time and space for shooters, like Smith had, for much of the game. Off-target passes pulled shooters out of their normal shooting motions, making it difficult to find a rhythm.
The Cats scored a late goal in the second quarter and took a 7-5 lead into halftime.
Montana defense came out sloppy in the third quarter. Ninety seconds in, Cats senior attackman Keegan Lancaster walked to the crease, faked a couple shots to pull Moesel out of position, and scored. Then, Bobcat freshman Joey Diffley did the same thing thirty seconds later to give MSU a 9-5 lead.Montana’s Aidan Larson got one point back, but the Cats scored on two more easy shots. With 9:30 left in the third quarter, the Griz trailed 11-6.
Saturday’s game was a break from the Grizzlies’ trend of starting slow and making up the score later in the game. The team’s early lead, which was countered by an 11-2 Cats run, was a position Montana wasn’t used to holding.
“We have to learn how to play with control when we have the lead,” Sargent said.
The Griz had a chance to cut into the lead late in the third, when a diving slash to the top of a Griz helmet gave Montana a man advantage. The Griz couldn’t convert, but shortly after the penalty expired James Pierce sniped the top left corner and Montana trailed by four.
Pierce had another scoring chance early in the fourth quarter, when the Griz earned a 30-second man advantage on a holding call, but he hit the goalie in the chest.
The Griz drew another man-up opportunity with six minutes to play in the fourth quarter, when Griz Carson Smith was cross-checked after scoring a goal and cutting the lead to 11-9.
But Montana couldn’t take advantage of the small gap in points and missed another chance to build some momentum. A turnover early in the penalty gave the ball back to the Cats. Moesel left the crease and forced a turnover with a hit while Montana State cleared, but the Griz couldn’t score on their second possession of the penalty either.
After the advantage expired, Moesel made a stick-to-stick save on the crease — one of his 24 saves on Saturday — and started a fast break. But the Grizzlies’ wraparound try was saved.
Montana was called for a tripping penalty with 3:20 to go and the Cats ran the shot clock all the way down. A minute later, MSU’s Pugh found Lancaster on the crease to take a 12-8 lead, essentially icing the game.
“It was bad, man,” senior Hayden Smith said. “Sucks.”
The Grizzlies finish their season with divisional matchups against Western Washington 7 p.m. Friday and Seattle University 1 p.m. Saturday. Both games will be played in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The Grizzlies will also host their conference tournament at Washington-Grizzly Stadium April 26-28.