Against the odds, the Gibault Hawks are still alive in the girls soccer postseason.
The Hawks, despite injuries to key players, withstood tremendous pressure from Columbia during 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime before outscoring the Eagles 5-3 in penalty kicks to win 1-0 in the semifinals of the Class 1A Sectional on Tuesday.
Gibault senior Liz Kuerz delivered the clinching penalty kick, scoring past Columbia junior goalkeeper Allison Riddle. The Hawks raced onto the field and swarmed Kuerz as the tearful Eagles endured a painful walk to the sidelines.
“I was so scared to take it. I really was,” Kuerz said as she relived the final moments before her penalty kick. “But it feels really good to get that last one for my team.”
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It was a top-rate birthday present for Gibault coach Matt Reeb, who turned 29 on Tuesday. The Hawks (8-9) will face Marquette (14-5-3) for the championship at 6 p.m. Friday. The Explorers defeated Gibault 3-0 on April 28.
“I told them before the game, ‘If you want to give me a birthday present, beat Columbia tonight,’” said Reeb, whose team played defensively in the final 10 minutes in an attempt to reach penalty kicks. “Our PKs are a strength for us because we continue to work on them. We know we can get to this situation and win playoff games on it.”
It marked the second consecutive year in which Columbia (11-8) has lost on penalty kicks in the sectional semifinals. Last year, the Eagles lost to Marquette 3-2.
“It’s just unfortunate,” Columbia coach Steve Ross said. “We’ve been through this numerous times over the last few years, whether it’s in our opening tournament we’re in or here in this situation. We’ve struggled with PKs over the last, I would say, decade. For some reason, that’s not been our thing.
“The girls played well. We really attacked. The second half, we owned the ball. We continued to attack at the weaknesses that they had. We just could not finish. Unfortunately, soccer is that way. I’ve seen it so many times over the years.”
Sophomore goalkeeper Kelly Dooley came up big time after time for the Hawks, making dazzling saves to maintain the scoreless tie. Columbia players like seniors Lauren Kaempfe, Lauren Tolan and Casey Wood, and sophomores Blair Wittenbrink and Morgan Glaenzer were a handful all game, but Dooley and the Hawks’ mix-and-match defense weathered the storm.
Gibault, already riddled by injuries, lost sophomore defender Caralyn Papenberg to a knee injury early in the second half. Papenberg returned briefly, only to exit again.
Senior defender Rachel Kuerz, meanwhile, was available only for minutes at a time as she continued to fight through leg issues. By the end of the game, Reeb was using junior Abby Hasenstab, normally a forward, at left-side defense.
“We ran into the injury bug a little bit, so we kind of rotated,” Reeb said, adding that Dooley, who was sidelined by injury earlier this season, “played phenomenal.”
“She stepped up and really played well,” Reeb said. “We’re glad to have her back and for the most part healthy. The defense played well. ... We’ve got to rest and heal some bodies.”
Reeb also credited freshman Skyla Haudrich for marking Tolan.
Both teams made their first three penalty kicks, with junior Robyn Lindsey, freshman Abby Phelps and junior Carley Olson converting for Gibault and Tolan, Kaempfe and sophomore Madelyne Juenger scoring for Columbia.
The Hawks’ fourth shooter, Hasenstab, scored to make it 4-3. Columbia freshman Taylor Parks’ penalty kick then ricocheted off the left post and rolled away, setting the stage for Liz Kuerz.
“You’ve got to like our chances at that point, when the senior captain is stepping up to take the final kicks,” Reeb said. “All she had to do was make it for us to win.”
Ross felt bad to see it end the way it did.
“One person didn’t cost us,” Ross said, referring to Parks’ narrow miss. “Anybody that misses in that situation, they’re going to feel it. You’re going to make one of two decisions. You’re going to fight past it and make yourself better or you’re going to retreat. She’s the type of girl that will fight past it. She’s a young player. We’ve got confidence in her.”
Marquette 2, Mater Dei 1
Mater Dei senior Olivia Theising scored in the first two minutes, but the Explorers got the equalizer on a penalty kick by senior Kate Sanfilippo late in the first half.
Sophomore Annabelle Copeland scored what proved to be the game-winner at 19 seconds into the second half, hitting a high shot into the right side of the net.
Mater Dei, which had won its fourth consecutive sectional, finished 16-5-3.
“There’s no easy game in the sectional,” Knights coach Jesse Essenpreis said. “Their second goal they scored was outstanding. Wow, what a hit.”