As the final horn sounded, A.J. Battle began pacing back toward her sideline.
The Hawks senior goalkeeper had just preserved her team’s shutout. Her teammates greeted her with hugs and high-fives.
Earning yet another win and keeping their season alive with her peers she’s played soccer with since she was a freshman felt euphoric to Battle.
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling,” she said, “because any day now could be your last one.”
Thanks to a goal by Sami Murphy early on and productive defense thereafter, the East No. 2-seeded Hawks held onto a 1-0 win over West No. 3 Missoula Sentinel in the Class AA quarterfinals on Saturday at Bozeman High.
The Hawks (11-2-3) will host a state semifinal match on Tuesday.
“Honestly, it feels amazing. It feels like I’m on top of the world right now,” Battle said. “We went out there and played for each other. Nothing feels better than that, knowing you’ve left everything out on the field and dug deep.”
With snow on the ground, her players smiling and laughing as they walked off the field, Bozeman head coach Erika Cannon sighed in relief when asked what it took to earn the victory.
“Just a lot of great team soccer,” she said.
The Hawks needed just six minutes to gain a lead they would never let go of. Murphy capitalized on an opportunity near the net, and converted on her shot to the corner.
“It was a big moment,” Murphy said. “I think it really set the tone for the rest of the team the rest of the game. It really picked up the energy and the intensity.”
But just a few minutes later, snow began furiously falling. This changed the complexion of the contest. In what could’ve been a high-scoring matchup with the early goal, offensive opportunities became more strenuous to come by.
Both teams had challenges sustaining control of possessions. This led to a back-and-forth clash in the midfield.
“We just went in trying to play our game and making sure we played good, solid soccer,” Cannon said. “I thought we did a really good job of that. I don’t think it was pretty at the end.
“But it was still really beautiful to win a game like that,” she said with a laugh.
Cannon emphasized how proud she was of the Hawks for overcoming challenges. The Spartans were urgent from the moment Bozeman went ahead, Cannon said, which served as another obstacle.
Murphy felt the Hawks worked well together despite the conditions.
“It’s definitely hard. It’s Montana soccer. My toes were numb for a while,” she said with a smile. “But we just had to work our best and try to play through it.”
Sentinel had only been shut out three times during the regular season. Battle said the Hawks were prepared to face the Spartans’ athleticism and speed, though.
Cannon felt Bozeman successfully contained Sentinel’s attack. She called Battle’s performance “tremendous” and complimented the rest of her team for their effort defending their goal.
Battle also knew Sentinel’s goalie and defense would be stout, so she felt compelled to step up her own game.
“But my biggest motivator for me is always going to be my team,” Battle said. “And I think everyone on our team motivates each other.”
Cannon also said the Hawks remained focused and relied on each other, even as they rotated more players into the game. In the cold, they remained energetic and communicated effectively.
“Obviously, there was a lot of adrenaline,” Murphy said. “Playoff games are very intense. But I think we did a good job of holding our own, staying collected and calm and working our way forward.”
Cannon said the Hawks were “stoked” to host the semifinals. Last season, they had to travel to Billings and lost to Skyview in double overtime in the semis.
“We’ll have to dig deep,” Battle said. “We’ll have to keep digging deep. We’re going to have to believe in each other, and we’re going to have to play for each other. As long as we do all of that, I think we’ll be good to go.”
Murphy believes the Hawks can win, especially at home, and advance to the state title game. That even includes if it were to snow again.
“Yeah,” she said with a laugh, “even when it snows, it’s still exciting.”