Third-seeded Freeburg was hanging right with second-seeded Althoff on Tuesday, but a defensive breakdown gave the Crusaders the jolt they needed.
Freshman Sophie Monken scored from freshman Jessica Hoffman at 49 minutes, 9 seconds and Althoff went on for a 2-0 victory in the semifinals of the Class 1A Columbia Regional.
The game-changing play began when junior Shannon Maitland had all kinds of space in the middle of the field and made a long run into the attacking third before finding Hoffman, who crossed a pass to Monken for the easy goal.
“It’s kind of funny; we worked on that (Monday) in practice,” Crusaders coach Juergen Huettner said of the play. “It was perfect execution; it was quick. Maitland got the ball, drove it down there, played it to Jessica and Jessica one-timed it, in and Monken just tapped it in.
“It looked simple. Unfortunately, this was not a simple game. It was much tougher.”
Althoff, which defeated Freeburg 6-1 earlier this season, improved to 7-12 and will meet top-seeded Columbia (10-7) in the championship game at 6 p.m. Friday. The Eagles, who have defeated Althoff to win the last two regionals, outscored fourth-seeded Wesclin 3-1 in the other semifinal.
Freeburg coach Julie Klazynski bemoaned her team’s defense on Monken’s goal.
“We didn’t transition well,” she said. “They transitioned quickly with high numbers. The back line did what they were supposed to do. They came through like a steam-roller. We were all pushed up and didn’t transition back. It was a very dangerous situation and they capitalized.”
Sophomore Amanda Kaltwasser put the game out of reach with a goal from a sharp angle on the left side that made it 2-0 at 74:38. Freshman Rachel Monken had the shutout in goal.
Freeburg (13-10) had the first real opportunity of the contest when junior Emily Schaller’s shot from the left side of the box sailed wide right. Althoff went from four defenders to three with six minutes remaining in the first half, and the move finally paid dividends 10 minutes into the second half when Sophie Monken scored.
“We wanted to get an attack going,” Huettner said. “We moved Maitland into the middle of the field to give us a little bit more possession. When we had the ball, we didn’t know what to do with it in the middle or the top. Putting Maitland in there helped us out.”
Huettner said his team was tight in the first half and part of the second half.
“We were the favored team coming in. We were the higher seed. Everybody was like, ‘OK, you’ve got to do this,’” Huettner said of the pressure to come through. “You’ve got to go out there and win the games. Nobody is going to win games by the seed they’ve got.
“(Freeburg) did a good job. The first time, when we played them in the regular season, it looked like an easy game. It definitely wasn’t an easy game today. They played well. They battled hard. They’ve got some very nice players out there. There’s no question, we were worried.”
Freeburg will graduate just four players. Among its returning players will be Emilie Blomenkamp, who finished with 25 goals and eight assists this year.
“It’s hard to lose and it’s hard to be done with your season, but I am very proud with how much improvement they’ve shown,” Klazynski said. “The whole goal as you go through a season is to get better. They played (Althoff) at a higher level than they did the first time. We had some quality chances and we possessed pretty well.”
Columbia 3, Wesclin 1
The Eagles looked like they were on their way to another rout of the Warriors when senior Lauren Kaempfe scored from close range on a pass from senior Hannah Heller less than five minutes into the game.
“Hannah Heller made a great pass to Lauren, who made a nice run off of it to receive it,” Columbia coach Steve Ross said.
But Wesclin senior Zoe Christopher capitalized on a defensive breakdown and scored the game-tying goal at 21:17, giving the Warriors (14-5-2) life.
But Kaempfe scored again at 50:13 on a pass from senior Lauren Tolan, giving the Eagles the lead for good. Sophomore Blair Wittenbrink iced the game with a goal at 73:24.
“It’s playoff time, so everybody’s going to play (hard),” Ross said. “But we were patient and composed. We didn’t get rattled (by Christopher’s goal). That’s a sign of the leadership on our team. A couple of years ago, we might have been rattled by that.”
Warriors coach Terry Calvert packed his defense into the middle of the field and tried to force Columbia to rely on its wings. He didn’t second-guess the strategy despite the loss.
“Our goal was to keep it close and have a chance at the end,” Calvert said. “I think we did that. We played defensive-minded and tried to be opportunistic when we got the ball in the offensive third. The first chance down, we scored. The girls believed they could do it. We gave them our best shot. They’re a really good team and we did everything we could do.”