A victory would have been ideal, but Carl Bridwell felt good about Friday afternoon’s draw.
Belgrade’s girls posted their second shutout of the season and snapped a three-match losing streak in an Eastern AA clash against Billings West.
The scoreless tie keeps the Panthers (2-5-2) in the hunt for hosting a first round playoff match Oct. 22 at the Belgrade Youth Sports Complex.
Billings Skyview, the defending state champion, is currently atop the conference standings along with Bozeman. The league champion receives a first round bye, while the other top three seeds will host playoff matches.
“The fact that West beat Skyview, but then lost to Great Falls, we just knew that we can be competitive,” Bridwell, who is Belgrade’s first-year coach, said. “We’re learning more and more about this division. Everyone is right there, so this is a great resolve for us. Maybe we could have gotten the win, maybe they could have gotten the win, but we’re right in there.”
The Panthers were coming off a disappointing 3-1 loss to Great Falls — a team they had shut out on the road in September — last week. But Bridwell liked how things looked in practice Thursday after the team was forced to move indoors following Wednesday’s snowstorm.
“What a gym exposes is when you have to play to feet and simple passes. We just said all day today that if you play like you can in a gym, it’s going to make a day on a field much easier,” he said. “So I thought that was evident in how we played today.”
Scoring opportunities were limited for each team, although West (5-3-2) nearly found the back of the net in the 64th minute. Emma Lensing ripped a shot toward the right post from outside the left side of the box, but McKenzie Turner made a diving save to keep the match scoreless.
Outside of that shot, the Panthers’ defense neutralized West’s speed on the outside and often cleared shots before they ever made it to Turner.
“We worked a lot on our outside backs rotating because we want our outside backs in the attack, but we just had to communicate a lot more,” said Bridwell. “For the first time we actually planned a game of how we wanted to attack and how we wanted to approach this team, and it was effective. We just couldn’t get it into the net.”
Belgrade wraps up the regular season with three consecutive matches on the road beginning Saturday against Billings Senior.
Golden Bears score a dozen goals
Riley Krueger-Harding scored six goals and assisted on another Friday as Billings West routed Belgrade 12-1 in a conference match.
The Golden Bears (5-4-1) scored five of their goals in the first 13 minutes of the contest as Belgrade stumbled out of the gate.
“We put in a (new) formation today,” first-year Belgrade coach Jeff DeBuse said. “We were trying something else out and I think we just took about 15 minutes to get settled and start figuring it out.”
The Panthers (0-9-0) only allowed one more goal in the first half — in the 38th minute by Jonah Lewis — and nearly scored a goal of their own when Luke Hickok hit the cross bar.
But Belgrade competed without senior defenseman Nathan Haycock, who sat out the contest after receiving a red card in a 3-1 loss to Great Falls last week. That led to DeBuse trying out the new formation.
“I’d been thinking about it,” he said. “And with Nate having to sit out today (I thought) it’ll work well now because we have to fill this spot and just kind of shifted kids around.”
Sean Smith scored the Panthers’ goal early in the second half off a free kick, and nearly added another that just sailed over the crossbar.
“Sean had another great goal today. That was a perfectly placed free kick,” said DeBuse.
Billings West tallied six goals in the second half, including three by Krueger-Harding and two from Quin Pawiroreoyo.
“Despite the scoreline we still had a lot of really great things to take out of this game,” said DeBuse. “Sean’s goal, Christian (Atchison) having probably his best game all year, so I’m excited to keep building off that.”
Belgrade is back in action Saturday at Billings Senior.
‘I’m excited to go over to Senior and play a really good team,” said DeBuse. “Just keep working on stuff we’re working on and get better.”
Belgrade 0, Billings West 0
West 0 0 - 0
Belgrade 0 0 - 0
Shots: BW 11, Bel 4. CK: BW 5, Bel 2. Fouls: BW 8, Bel 6. Saves: BW 4 (Kendell Ellis), Bel 5 (McKenzie Turner).
Billings West 12, Belgrade 1
Billings West 6 6 - 12
Belgrade 0 1 - 1
BW - Hunter Jacobsen (unassisted), 2nd
BW - Logan Brown (unassisted), 4th
BW - Riley Krueger-Harding (Josh Lambourne), 8th
BW - Krueger-Harding (unassisted), 10th
BW - Krueger-Harding (unassisted), 13th
BW - Jonah Lewis (unassisted), 38th
Bel - Sean Smith (unassisted), 43rd
BW - Jacobson (Krueger-Harding), 33rd
BW - Krueger-Harding (Kaleb Vestal) 61st
BW - Krueger-Harding (Cade Hathaway), 64th
BW - Krueger-Harding (unassisted), 71st
BW - Quin Pawiroreoyo (unassisted), 74th
BW - Pawiroreoyo (unassisted), 78th
Fouls: BW 8, Bel 7. Saves: BW 3 (Dustin Gray, Dillon Haff), Bel 6 (Eduardo Delgado, Trey Nelson).