In a blink of an eye Friday, the Gibault Hawks delivered their biggest play of the season.
Senior Kyle Rocca connected on a low 20-yard rocket from the left side of the box at 69 minutes, 10 seconds to give the Hawks a 1-0 victory over Althoff 1-0 in the championship game of the Class 1A Gibault Sectional at Oerter Park.
The play began with a short corner kick by sophomore Karson Huels that went to the feet of senior Dalton Scace, who flicked the ball to Rocca for the winning shot.
“We’ve been working on that (play) all season. We haven’t really had much luck with it, whether a pass was too slow, a little high or whatever,” said Rocca, a midfielder who transferred from Georgia. “But this time, everything fell into place. Karson set it up on a gold platter for me and Dalton played it perfect to me, and I was able to bury it.
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“It happened really fast. It’s hard to even remember how fast it was.”
Gibault (14-7-1) will play Beardstown or Teutopolis in the Granite City Super-Sectional at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Beardstown and Teutopolis will meet in the title game of the Macon Sectional at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Althoff, which hit the post and the crossbar in the second half, finished 10-12-2.
“It is a game of inches. It’s terrible luck,” Crusaders coach Skip Birdsong said, referring to junior Tyler Stone’s shot that caromed off the left post at 41:20 and sophomore Nathan Petry’s free kick that clanged off the crossbar at 70:20, a little over a minute after Rocca’s goal.
“Just 6 inches to the right, 6 inches down or 2 inches, maybe (and it’s a different game),” Birdsong said. “You hope on a night when somebody hits the post and the crossbar, it’s not you. But that’s taking nothing away from (Gibault).”
The winning play
Reeb saw his team dominate the first 20 minutes of the first half. Time after time, however, Gibault was turned away from deep inside the Crusaders’ box.
Althoff junior Jimmy Monken cleared two shots by Huels off the line, in the fifth and 37th minutes, and senior Stephen Waltrip robbed Rocca at the line in the 30th minute. Sophomore goalie Stone Galloway, meanwhile, chipped in with a couple of big saves.
“We did everything right in the first half except score,” Reeb said. “I was a little bit tight, for sure.”
The Crusaders settled in during an even second half. They almost took the lead in the 60th minute, but Gibault senior keeper Trevor Davis tipped a hard shot from close range by sophomore Justin Kaemmerer over the crossbar.
Just under 10 minutes later, the Hawks set up their winning play, and Huels, Scace and Rocca executed it to perfection, just as Reeb drew it up in practice.
“It’s a set play for us. We run it exactly like that,” Reeb said. “We work on it in practice. We’re aware that set pieces are a very big thing in the playoffs. We executed the play exactly.”
Birdsong said the Crusaders suffered a “letdown” on Rocca’s restart goal.
“But that’s how postseason games go. Against good teams, there’s usually not a big margin for error,” Birdsong said, adding that there was little the Crusaders could have done to prevent Rocca’s goal. “It was a well-executed play. I had seen them run it before and we talked about it at practice. But in the heat of the moment, things happen.
“It was a nice goal on a set piece. It’s what they do. They play direct, they play fast.”
Reeb complimented Davis, the rangy 6-foot-4 netminder who also plays basketball.
“He saved us one or two times on potential goal-scoring opportunities. He played well,” Reeb said. “It was a reaction save (against Kaemmerer). He’s a big, long, athletic keeper. The moment wasn’t bigger than him. He was ready for it and he stepped up big-time.”
Birdsong cringed when Davis turned away Kaemmerer.
“He’s a very good keeper. That was a reaction save,” Birdsong said. “Great shot, a side volley. He put it on goal just like he’s supposed to. He hit it hard. It wasn’t like he just barely got it. He hit it. (Davis) made a great save. It went through traffic as well.”
The shutout was Davis’ 11th of the season.
“Everybody played hard, both teams,” Davis said. “We knew (Althoff) would come out firing because we were on our home field, (with our) home crowd. But I’m glad the way we competed. The save (against Kaemmerer), these guys in practice are always ripping shots on me, so I get one of those every once in a while.”