COLUMBIA — Gibault freshman Madi O'Neill wasn't expecting much when she put a shot on goal early in the second half Saturday.
The attempt didn't have much force behind it, but it wriggled through the hands of Columbia freshman keeper Claire Foster, and the goal held up as the top-seeded Hawks won 1-0 in the championship game of the Class 1A Columbia Regional.
"I didn't think it would go through. I was just excited (when it did)," O'Neill said of her team-high ninth goal, which came 48 seconds into the second half. "I don't know what to say. It's exciting to be able to play varsity in high school in my first year."
The victory advanced Gibault (12-5) into the semifinals of the Freeburg Sectional. The Hawks will play Mater Dei or Greenville in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
It was the second straight crazy victory for Gibault. The Hawks defeated Freeburg 2-1 in the semifinals Wednesday when junior Courtney Olson's 40-yard kick toward the goal bounced high off the turf and into the net.
"It's just a matter of finding the net. That's what it is," Gibault coach Matt Reeb said. "You've just got to keep persevering and keep battling through. I told the ladies at halftime, 'Someone is going to step through and win this game. We've got to find the net.
"We kept battling until we did."
Freshman Abby Hasenstab was credited with the assist when she found O'Neill open in the left side of the box.
"It was nice vision by Abby; she passed it out wide to Madi," Reeb said. "Madi made a good shot. She made the keeper make a play, and she didn't --unfortunately for them but good for us. The ball bounces your way sometimes.
"Sometimes it's your night or your day, and it was today."
Columbia, seeded third, finished 10-10.
"You win as a team, you lose as a team," Eagles coach Steve Ross said. "We played hard. We really struggled with connecting our passes. We had some opportunities early in the first half and a couple in the second half. In games like this, you've got to capitalize on those. ... It's frustrating on our part."
Ross felt poorly for Foster, who was visibly upset as the Eagles huddled for their postgame meeting.
"I know she's not going to stop thinking about that," Ross said. "She'll make that play 10 out of 10 times. (This was) just the one time a fluke thing happens. It's not her fault. We've got to capitalize on opportunities and limit opportunities against us. Bottom line is they got a fluke goal on that, and that's the end of the story."
The first half was fairly even as both teams enjoyed quality possession time despite a lack of goal-scoring chances.
Gibault enjoyed the better of the play for most of the second half, although Columbia had two chances that went awry.
In the 53rd minute, junior Kristin Rein made a long run toward goal and was positioning herself for a shot in the box when she collided with Gibault junior keeper Kendra Davis, diffusing the play.
Seven minutes later, sophomore Lauren Kaempfe's shot from the left side caromed off the outside of the left post.
Twice, the Hawks failed to add to their slim lead. In the 73rd minute, O'Neill shot high after accepting a cross from freshman Carley Olson. Two minutes later, O'Neill's shot off a corner kick by Courtney Olson glanced off the bottom of the right post.
Foster, meanwhile, made an exceptional save to rob Gibault senior Michaela Muich in the 78th minute, but time ran out on the Eagles.
"We just never really looked fluid," Ross said. "We didn't find our switches (and) we weren't in our positions to receive the ball offensively. Our first touch, every time we received it, it seemed like it was just a bad touch and it went too far. Unfortunately, that happens. It wasn't as clean as it was (Wednesday) against Althoff."
Reeb said he hopes the Hawks, who lost to Columbia in the regional championship last year, can sustain the momentum.
"We're not necessarily satisfied with a regional championship," he said. "These ladies are hungry. We'll see how far it takes us."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.