By Bruce Sayler
Butte High could have used short-handedness for an excuse, or physical play as one, too, if it seemed excessive. The Bulldogs didn’t bother with either.
They lost 3-0 to Billings Senior in Eastern AA Conference high school boys’ soccer on Saturday at the Jeremy Bullock Memorial Soccer Fields, but no excuses were offered. Not even the ones seemingly sitting there for the serving.
“We were short-handed a little bit,” head coach Eric Zahler conceded and acknowledged the lineup was now without three starters, the latest casualty being a shoulder injury to senior Brock Powell suffered in Friday’s match with Billings West. “We think that we’ll get everybody back except one for Bozeman (on Thursday) and by the playoffs, we should be at full strength. Now, it shouldn’t matter. Everybody’s out here every night practicing and working hard. Everybody should be ready. It’s next man up. I thought we did a good job of establishing some depth so we can make a deep run into the state tournament.”
The coach added that physical soccer is the brand Montana Class AA schools play and the Bulldogs are happy to take part.
“Everybody we play is physical,” Zahler said. “You just have to rise to the challenge and be as aggressive as you can without being dirty.”
A lot of thie game, one important for playoff seeding implications, was played on the edges with angled passes and shots. Not a lot went up the middle where traffic snarled with two good teams on the field.
Billings Senior broke onto the scoreboard in the 10th minute as Charlie Klepps took a pass from Caleb Borgstrom in front of the goal and boomed it too fast, too hard just passed the goalkeeper. The Broncs were wide on two more shots as Erik Rosa guarded goal and another was waved off for an infraction.
So, at halftime, it was a 1-0 score and the Bulldogs barely missed on an opportunity seconds before intermission. The shot traveled just outside the net to the right side.
“We were pretty organized as a team,” Zahler said. “At times, we got sucked back in and parked the bus. That’s always dangerous. You give up shots when you absorb that much pressure.”
As a result, the Broncs tallied two quick goals in the second half. Mauro Bustillo finished a play in front of the net as Billings Senior executed a pass across to Borgstrom, who then placed for the set-up pass to Bustillo.
The 47th-minute goal was followed was followed six minutes later by a soft shot Luke Vondra put into the corner, a bouncer that traveled left to back of the net, deep right. The assist went to Sy D’Ambrosia.
Keepers Kolten Unrein and Marten Bustillo combined on the Broncs’ shutout. Billings Senior’s record stands at 6-2-1 in league play.
Though, the Bulldogs were looking with optimism for a win leading up the match, the disappointment of the loss wasn’t souring. Rosa said several players performed very well.
“Erik Rosa was sold in the box,” he said. “Travis Williams gave us great leadership and never quit. The whole team should be commended for staying positive. A team can be crushed missing three starters, but these guys weren’t.”
Rosa made several outstanding plays, one in particular in a crowd at the goal mouth. He collided with a Billings Senior player and the ball was jarred from Rosa’s grasp. The Bulldog quickly pounced on the loose ball and secured possession, preventing an easy attempt on an open goal by any of the Broncs.
The Butte High boys are 7-4-2 for the season, 6-3-2 in conference action. They will be home against Bozeman for Senior Parents Day on Thursday with seniors Zach Archibald, Ryson Lovshin, Oscar Kronenberger, Eric Todd, Kyle Rauch, Powell and Williams to be recognized along with their parents.
Zahler said the playoffs situation is still unclear, but said Butte High will be home for a first-round match.
“At worst, we’ll finish fourth (in the Eastern AA regular season),” he said.