Hellgate Girls Soccer Team Loses Tough Battle To Billings West, Ending Their Season

Ali Caudle, Reporter

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The Hellgate Knights girls soccer team’s season ended after a devastating loss to the Billings West Golden Bears on Saturday, October 26th. It was the quarterfinals for the AA Montana State Championships, and the teams were fairly evenly matched, but the Golden Bears ultimately came away with the 2-1 victory.

Photo courtesy of Sara Pierce
The Knights jog across the field together after the game to thank the parents and fans for coming.

Hellgate had a strong start to the season, with a string of wins and ties that cemented their status near the front of the Western Division, made up of 8 teams: the Butte Bulldogs, Capital Bruins, Flathead Braves, Sentinel Spartans, Big Sky Eagles, Helena Bengals, Hellgate Knights, and the Glacier Wolfpack.

As the season approached its end, the Knights seemingly lost some of their momentum, failing to score in 4 straight games. However, their strong defense helped to make two of those games scoreless ties. At the end of the regular season, Hellgate’s record was 7-3-4, which secured them the second place finish in the Western Division.

For the first round of the state championship, the Knights played the seventh place team: Helena Capital’s Bengals. They scored 5 goals and shut out the Bengals’ offense to defeat them 5-0 and move into the quarterfinals.

While things were looking up for the Knights, they were worried about their next game. Gabby Beaton, a sophomore on the team, said, “We were all pretty nervous coming into the game… mostly because we didn’t know what to expect.”

The Knights were matched up against the Golden Bears from Billings West High School, with a regular season record of 6-3-3. As Hellgate had a better record, the Knights got the home field advantage and the game was scheduled to be held at the Knights’ home field in the Rattlesnake. However, on game day the field was covered in snow, so the game was moved to Sentinel High School’s home fields.

Sentinel’s fields were free from snow, but the air was still freezing, at just over 30 degrees. The girls from both teams fought through the cold and emerged with a vengeance, fighting with everything they had to move on to the semifinals.

Beaton said, “It was a hard fought game and we all worked really hard… it turned out to be well matched, and we held our own throughout the game.”

Both the Golden Bears and the Knights amped up their aggression. Each side received a yellow card during the match for overly aggressive or dangerous play. For the Knights, it was senior captain and defender Elaina Pierce who received the caution. 

According to MHSA soccer rules, any player who is cautioned during play must leave the field and be replaced, although they are allowed to be substituted back in again at the next stoppage in play. Pierce was sent off the field and replaced by freshman Josie Brown, although she came back on the field almost immediately.

Elaina Pierce was just one of the standout players during the game. Others included sophomores Ashley Young, Clara Tallent, and Lucia Baker, juniors Annika McGowan and goalkeeper Sophia Pierce, and seniors Sierra Tai-Brownlee and Maggie Gibbons. However, every single one of the Knights gave it their all.

Gibbons is another one of the senior captains. She said, “We had a lot of strong moments in the game and played very hard and very united as a team. There were moments where we broke down but overall I think we played super hard and I’m very proud of that.”

The majority of the first half of the game was scoreless, but right before halftime Golden Bears forward Chloe Davis scored a goal. They took the lead for a while, until Hellgate sophomore Lucia Baker tied it up with a beautiful shot into the lower left corner of the goal about midway through the second half.

For much of the rest of the game, it looked like it would have to go to overtime. MHSA rules have protocol for a tie in a soccer game that needs to produce a winner: first there is a 20 minute overtime, separated into two 10-minute halves. If neither team is winning after the overtime, the teams will have a shootout.

This didn’t prove to be necessary, however, as the Golden Bears placed another ball into the net with a mere three minutes remaining in the game. The Knights couldn’t get another in time to tie it up, and that last minute goal decided the game.

The game was definitely a close defensive battle, and both teams put their goalies to work. The Golden Bears’ goalie, Kendall Ellis, prevented the Knights from scoring quite a few times. Junior Sophia Pierce, Hellgate’s goalie, also had several incredible saves, including a diving save that brought the crowd to their feet.

She said, “We put forth all our effort till the end. Highs were definitely when we scored… lows were when we got scored on and the end when we all realized that that was our last game with the seniors.”

While the Billings West Golden Bears live on to see another day and game, the Hellgate Knights have closed the chapter of their 2019 season. Looking back, the team agrees that they played their hearts out, and that is what matters.

Sophia Pierce said, “I love this team and appreciate all the work they put in this season and battled through the low numbers. I feel like overall we had a fantastic season.”

Pierce was referencing the fact that the girls soccer team had record low numbers this season: even after adding three new players in the middle of the season, the JV and Varsity squads combined only had a total of 28 players. While this definitely made the season tougher, as it forced the girls to be in better shape, both physically and mentally, it also helped them bond as a group.

Gibbons said, “I think we had a lot of positive energy this season and I’m proud of how we came together as a team even if we didn’t necessarily have a lot of players. I think everything worked out as it was supposed to.”

The season may be over, but the memories will last a lifetime. Beaton said, “Although the outcome isn’t what we wanted, knowing how hard we worked and how much fun we had throughout the entire season is what I will remember.”