College lacrosse: Montana Grizzlies win Copper Cup, lose to Montana State
MISSOULA — Ground was gained but the Montana men’s lacrosse team was in no mood to celebrate Sunday afternoon.
The good news for the Grizzlies is they won the three-team Copper Cup tournament at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The bad news is they did so by tie-breaker criteria after suffering a 15-12 loss to archrival Montana State in front of a crowd of close to 300 onlookers.
“I guess in the scheme of the weekend you had a greater performance, but wins and losses are really what matters,” Montana coach Tucker Sargent said. “It’s pretty bittersweet.”
Point differential was the deciding factor for a Grizzly team that has won the Copper Cup three of four years. Despite losing to Montana State Sunday, Montana put a 14-5 whipping on Great Falls Friday while the Bobcats suffered a surprising 9-8 loss to the Argonauts on Saturday.
Missoula native Duncan Szalda-Petree, a junior defender for the Bobcats, summed up Sunday succinctly.
“Beating the Griz is more important than Copper Cup for sure,” he said. “And I don’t know how happy they’ll be blowing out Great Falls for the Copper Cup.
“We came here and did what we wanted to do. It feels amazing winning in this stadium. I came to a lot of Griz games here. It was a great feeling today.”
From the start Sunday the Bobcats played with more fire than the Grizzlies. The Cats raced to a 4-1 lead in the first quarter and refused to relinquish the lead.
“We got yelled at a lot after losing Saturday,” Szalda-Petree said. “UGF played really well and we didn’t play so well. I think that really helped us come out today and be focused.”
Junior Louis Richman of New Jersey was the catalyst early for the Bobcats with two goals on point-blank shots in the first quarter. Montana’s funk continued for most of the second quarter, with the visitors stretching their lead to 9-4 on a shot by freshman Keaton Buckingham with 3:44 left in the half.
Sargent called a timeout and delivered a pep talk to his team that seemed to work wonders, especially for freshman Aidan Larson of Salt Lake City. He scored three goals in trimming Montana’s deficit to 9-7 by halftime.
Larson scored his fourth straight goal early in the third frame to pull his team within one, 9-8. The teams went back and forth for the remainder of the period but the Bobcats led 11-10 heading into the final stanza.
Mitch Paige and Jack Pugh found the net for Montana State early in the fourth quarter and it was a kick in the stomach for the Grizzlies. Montana State led by multiple goals for the duration in boosting its record to 8-3.
“They played much better,” said Sargent, whose team fell to 7-5. “When you look at Montana State, they’re coming into this weekend ranked eighth in the nation. Their loss against Great Falls doesn’t necessarily reflect ... Great Falls played a great game.
“But Montana State has a great team and they played a great game today. Their goalie made some great saves there at the end. It’s pretty obvious in our transition game we turned the ball over a lot, which gave them extra possessions.”
Montana State’s ability to control a majority of the face-offs was a key to victory in Szalda-Petree’s mind.
“We pushed the ball down the field and got good opportunities on offense,” he said.
“This is a new thing for us being ranked top 10. We’ve been to nationals a couple times and lost in the first round. We had never beaten a top 15 team before. We went out to Minnesota and beat the No. 4 team in the nation this year. It’s been a good season for us.”
Montana’s goal going forward is to earn the No. 1 seed for the Pacific Northwest Conference tournament coming up in late April in British Columbia. The Grizzlies are currently 3-0 in league play with two conference games and two nonconference games left in the regular season.
“It’s been our best conference record so far in a couple of years,” Sargent noted. “Our team is mostly freshmen and sophomores right now. That’s what you see in a game like today.”
The ultimate goal for the Grizzlies and Bobcats is to win their league tournaments and earn berth at nationals. The Bobcats, who won the Copper Cup in 2016, play in the Rocky Mountain Conference.