It was a day of narrow wins and heartbreaking losses in the State A soccer semifinals on Saturday.
The Hamilton Broncs experienced both on the same field within a few hours. The girls downed visiting Whitefish in a shootout just several hours after the boys fell to Polson, also in a shootout.
Another team of Broncs, the Frenchtown variety, also suffered a tough defeat, falling to perennial power Whitefish 5-4 in Frenchtown.
In the only semifinal decided by more than one goal, three-time defending girls' champion Billings Central shut out Columbia Falls 5-0.
Whitefish (12-2-0) will host Polson (9-3-2) in the boys' title match and Billings Central (12-1-0) will entertain Hamilton (12-2-0) in the girls' title match.
Hamilton 1, Whitefish 1 (Hamilton wins in shootout)
At Hamilton, after the game ended in a tie after regulation and 20 minutes of overtime, the Bulldogs blinked first.
Hamilton won the coin flip and elected to kick second in the shootout. Whitefish missed its first penalty kick, then all nine of the rest found their marks.
"The wind was a huge player in the game," Hamilton coach Greg Shifflett said. "In the first half they were just pummeling us with shots. Our keeper staved it off and we got to the half at 0-0."
Natalie Gayner gave Whitefish a 1-0 lead in the 50th minute, before Bri Huggans got the equalizer 11 minutes later.
"It was up-and-down action," Shifflett said. "Everybody got their money's worth."
Hamilton was making its 11th straight appearance in the semifinals, but hadn't advanced to the championship in eight straight tries.
"I'm just happy we're going," Shifflett said. That's a huge monkey off our backs. We're excited to be going to Billings."
Central beat Hamilton 8-1 earlier this season in a nonconference match.
Whitefish 0 1 0 0 - 1
Hamilton 0 1 0 0 - 1
WF - Natalie Gayner, 50:00
H - Bri Huggans (Meghan Kratofil), 61:0
Shots - Whitefish 20, Hamilton 17. Saves - Whitefish 14 (Piper Greenwood 14), Hamilton 17 (Marina McGourty 15, Martiah Rall 2). Corner kicks - Whitefish 7, Hamilton 6. Total fouls - Whitefish 4, Hamilton 4. Yellow cards - Whitefish 1. Red cards - Whitefish coach Wendy Farrens.
Billings Central 5, Columbia Falls 0
At Billings, Allie Lucas scored three goals to help give the Rams a shot at their fourth straight state championship.
Lucas opened the scoring in the 12th minute and assisted on Holly Davison's goal in the 28th, giving Central (12-1-0) a 2-0 halftime advantage.
Lucas then put the game on ice with goals in the 42nd and 55th minutes. Maya Arce closed out the scoring in the 60th minute.
Hadley Ryan stopped three shots to earn the shutout in the net.
The loss had Columbia Falls coach Greg Trenerry scratching his head afterward.
"I'm not really sure," Trenerry told the Billings Gazette when asked to point out the difference in the game. "I think our forwards had problems holding onto the ball and playing like they normally do.
"Our defense made a few mistakes. I don't know. (Central) is a good team, but I know we can play a better game than that."
Kira Kamrud and Andrea Getts combined to stop four shots in goal for Columbia Falls, which finished its season at 11-2-1.
C. Falls 0 0 - 0
Bil. Central 2 3 - 5
BC - Allie Lucas (Sammy Elliott), 12:00.
BC - Holly Davison (A. Lucas), 28:00.
BC - A. Lucas (Kayla Lucas), 42:00.
BC - A. Lucas (Aubree Trunkle), 55:00.
BC - Maya Arce, 60:00.
Shots - CF 4, BC 15. Saves - CF 4 (Kira Kamrud, Andrea Getts), BC 3 (Hadley Ryan).
Polson 1, Hamilton 1 (Polson wins in shootout)
At Hamilton, the Pirates missed their first penalty kick in the shootout, then made their next three to earn a spot in the State A title game against Whitefish.
Each team scored in the first 12 minutes, James Larson for Polson and Cody Tredik for Hamilton.
Then neither team found the mark again through the next 68 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods.
Hamilton made its first shot in the shootout, then missed its next three. Polson missed its first, then made the next three to end the shootout after four chances.
"I was really proud with the effort they put in," Hamilton coach Randy Lind said. "Our inability to finish basically cost us the game. You gotta score to win. But credit Polson, they played hard and tough.
"It was a great year with a great group of kids."
Hamilton ended the season at 10-2-2.
Polson 1 0 0 0 - 1
Hamilton 1 0 0 0 - 1
P - James Larson, 2:00
H - Cody Tredik, 12:00
Shots - Polson 6, Hamilton 14. Saves - Polson 6, Hamilton 2. Corner kicks - Polson 3, Hamilton 9. Total fouls - Polson 7, Hamilton 12. Yellow cards - Hamilton 1. Red cards - none.
Whitefish 5, Frenchtown 4
At Frenchtown, the Bulldogs reached the state finals for the fourth time in six years with the win on a soggy field.
Whitefish jumped to a 3-1 lead in the first half thanks to one goal by Jon Dittman and two by Sam Donaldson. But upset-minded Frenchtown (5-6-1) rallied within a goal, 3-2, on the second score of the game by Manuel Terrazas in the 49th minute.
The teams traded goals again, with Donaldson completing a hat trick in the 71st minute and Terrazas in the 74th minute, setting the stage for a nailbiter finish.
Sean Janni tallied what turned out to be the game-winner for Whitefish in the 78th minute, making the score 5-3. Frenchtown answered with a Rodrigo Gama score in the 80th minute, but couldn't come up with a tying goal.
Whitefish 3 2 - 5
Frenchtown 1 3 - 4
W - Jon Dittman (assist Matty McCrone), 4:00
F - Manuel Terrazas, Igor Chinikaylo, 11:00
W - Sam Donaldson, Curran Edland, 20:00
W - Donaldson, Elior Rossi, 31:00
F - Terrazas, 49:00
W - Donaldson, Rossi, 71:00
F - Terrazas, Tristan Baker, 74:00
W - Sean Janni, Nathan Boone, 78:00
F - Rodrigo Gama, Michael Rebarchik, 80:00
Shots - Whitefish 16, Frenchtown 6. Saves - Whitefish 7 (Thomas Clark), Frenchtown 14 (Blake Warnall). Corner kicks - Whitefish 9, Frenchtown 6. Total fouls - Whitefish 12, Frenchtown 8. Yellow cards - Frenchtown 2. Red cards - none.