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DRAPER — In the modern era of Murray girls soccer, the Spartans have a less-than-distinguished resume.
It’s been more than 20 years since Murray has advanced past the first round of the state playoffs, in multiple classifications.
A perennial afterthought, the Spartans finally had a chance to change the narrative in 2018. With a nearly unblemished 15-1-1 record, the Region 6 champions had high expectations for a playoff run.
Book that run to Rio Tinto Stadium.
Abbi Graham scored the only goal of the match on a penalty kick, and goalkeeper Alexis Bates made four clutch saves down the stretch of the second half to send the Spartans by Timpview, 1-0 in a Class 5A state semifinal Tuesday at Juan Diego.
“It feels amazing. It’s unbelievable that we got here,” Bates said. “We were the underdog. No one thought we could get there, and we did. We’ve proved them all wrong.”
The Spartans will face Corner Canyon (17-2) at 2 p.m. MT Friday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Graham gave Murray the early lead via penalty kick about 20 minutes into the match. After a round of Spartan pressure drew a foul in the box, the senior striker calmly stepped to the spot and slid a ball on a rope into the side netting, just out of the reach of Timpview goalkeeper Ella Pope.
Bates and the Murray back line — including defenders Sailor Jensen, Megan Mendenhall, Emily Mills and Savanna Poteet did the rest.
“This team has figured out how to lock it in, and do whatever it takes to find a way to win,” Murray coach Brady Smith said. “That is what happened today; Lexi played huge, and the defenders met the match of a super physical Timpview team — and rose up.
“It was an awesome thing to see.”
Timpview standout Lily Haskins nearly equalized 15 minutes later with a long-range rainbow over the defense. But sophomore Paige Haderlie’s free header inside the box sailed inches over the crossbar, and Murray took the 1-0 lead into halftime.
Haskins came close to bagging the equalizer twice for the Thunderbirds (13-5-1) in the opening moments of the second, half, including a 20-yard rip that Bates clutched for the save.
Even when the goalkeeper was caught off her line, her defense had her back. Mendenhall tracked back and bodied up a dangerous Timpview counter attack. Jensen through her center-back frame in front of an open shot on goal.
“They were very, very good,” Bates said of the Murray defense. “I love my back line so much; they are unbelievable.”
When the dust was settled, the Spartans had emerged victorious against the 2016 champions — and advanced to their first championship match in program history, Smith was quick to add.
“This program has never won a state playoff game, so to make it to a state championship is monumental,” Smith said. “Just the belief by this group to never give up, to keep fighting is phenomenal.
“I’m extremely excited, and I’m ready to get prepared for Corner Canyon.”
20’ MUR: Abbi Graham (PK)
SO: Alexis Bates