EDWARDSVILLE — Mater Dei had finishing troubles all game Saturday, yet still found itself looking ahead to the next round of the playoffs.
The top-seeded Knights threatened time after time but needed penalty kicks to post a 1-0 victory over No. 3 Olney in the championship game of the Class 1A Metro-East Lutheran Regional at Edwardsville Sports Complex.
Mater Dei (11-7-2) will play Columbia (8-11) in the semifinals of the Columbia Sectional at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
"Anything remotely close to this and we'll get blown out," first-year Knights coach Jesse Essenpreis said. "Columbia's a good team. They're already looking ahead to playing us. We'll start preparing (Sunday). I'll let them enjoy this today."
After two 10-minute overtimes, the Knights outscored the Tigers 3-1 in the penalty-kicks period. Sophomore Melanie Mensing, junior Grace Chiarolanza and sophomore Macey Endres hit Mater Dei's PKs. The victory was clinched when Olney freshman Stephanie Shan missed wide left.
It's the third consecutive regional title for the Knights, who celebrated by dousing Essenpreis with a cooler of water.
"I would say (Olney) had eight or nine in the box a lot of the time," Essenpreis said. "We struggled getting shots off, and then when there were shots, there was a ton of traffic in there. We started getting frustrated and that changed the way we played a little bit.
"Fortunately, we were able to get the win anyway. But credit them. They came to play and they really frustrated us."
Olney (3-9-3) seldom threatened the Knights' defense, electing instead to clog its end of the field and play for penalty kicks.
"In their defense, we kind of had to pack in, and it's tough to score on a packed box," Tigers coach Kady Stallard said. "It was not (our objective), but once we hit overtime, I said, 'Let's just survive this and take our chances on PKs.'
"I'm proud of the girls. This is the best they've done. The defense stepped up. We played defense 70 percent of the game, at least, if not more. We just couldn't get it done in the PKs."
Mensing opened the PK period with a goal. Olney junior Courtney Kman answered before Chiarolanza scored to put Mater Dei back in the driver's seat.
Knights sophomore goalie Heather Schulte then caught senior Taylor Milburn's attempt, but Mater Dei senior Liz Sudholt also was stopped when junior keeper Robin Volk caught her attempt.
Schulte knocked out Olney junior Maci Dunn's shot, and Endres followed with a good PK. Shan needed to convert to extend the period, but was unable to connect.
"Credit Heather Schulte for being probably really bored for most of the game and then have to step up big in a shootout," Essenpreis said.
Essenpreis said his team was a bit uneasy at halftime after controlling the box but being unable to find the back of the net.
The Knights were even more dangerous in the second half and overtime, never more than when senior Abby Niemeyer drilled a free kick from 20 yards out that caromed off the left post in the second OT. Early in the second half, Chiarolanza shot inches high over the crossbar.
"We were feeling a little weird about the game at halftime," Essenpreis said. "The amount (of time) we were attacking, we figured we would have at least a goal or two."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.