Gibault’s visions of a fifth state soccer championship came to a bitter end Friday.
The Hawks, despite applying relentless pressure in the second half, fell 1-0 to Normal University High in the semifinals of the Class 1A state tournament at EastSide Centre.
The Pioneers collected their only goal on a quick restart at 48 minutes, 33 seconds, as sophomore Cayden Redd took a pass from sophomore Mason Wittman and scored one-on-one against Hawks senior goalie Trevor Davis after a Gibault foul.
“Credit to U. High. I don’t want to take anything away from them for scoring their goal,” Gibault coach Matt Reeb said. “They scored a good goal. They caught us sleeping on a set piece.
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“But the referees were atrocious and I can’t believe this is even happening. It’s just an absolute joke.”
Reeb was displeased with three non-calls by the referee in the middle of the field.
Less than 17 minutes into the contest, Reeb believed senior Dalton Scace had been tripped in the right side of the box and should have received a penalty kick.
With 18 minutes remaining in the game, the Hawks wanted a Pioneers defender called for a handball in the box on a shot by senior Kyle Rocca.
With 15:05 to play, Reeb believed sophomore Logan Doerr had been tripped in the box and should have been awarded a penalty kick.
“He didn’t have enough guts to blow his whistle,” Reeb said of the referee. “If you take away a goal-scoring chance by taking someone down in the box, it’s part of the game and you have to call it.”
After the game, Reeb received a yellow card for voicing his displeasure to the referee. Reeb’s mood hadn’t lightened a few minutes later.
“I’ve never felt so cheated in a soccer game by a referee,” Reeb said. “You never feel like blaming it on the referee, because they earned their goal and that’s fine. They played well to do that. But I’ve never felt so cheated. Three PKs, he missed tonight. It’s a joke that we have to come up here in the state finals and we get cheated that way.
“I feel for my guys. They worked way too hard to be (disappointed) like that. They’ve worked way too hard to be cheated. I can’t describe it any other way. ... I’m sad for my boys and disappointed for them they don’t get a fair shake at it.”
Gibault (15-8-1) will play the Cornerstone Christian Academy Cyclones (22-4-1), of Bloomington, in the third-place game at 3 p.m. Saturday. Normal U. High (16-6-5) will face Westchester St. Joseph (13-8) in the championship game at 5 p.m.
The winning play
Normal U. High was operating against a strong breeze in the second half and had the ball in the middle of the attacking third when the Hawks were called for a foul.
The Pioneers quickly placed the ball, and the Hawks were flat-footed when suddenly Wittman placed the ball and pushed it a few yards ahead. Redd ran onto it and shot high into the upper-right corner, out of the reach of the 6-foot-4 Davis.
“We work on that a lot,” said Redd, a midfielder who has 14 goals. “Most teams like to argue around the box. So it’s always in the back of our head at practice, to just play the ball through because it’s open a lot. We like to look for that because it’s easy goals. We like that.”
Redd said the play began with a glance toward Wittman and a finger-point to indicate to Wittman to push the ball in front of him.
“Whoever’s by the ball, if someone’s making a run, you just kind of point and try to make it as secret as possible so the other team doesn’t really notice it,” Redd said. “It’s a slip-pass through and those are easy. (Wittman) could have shot the ball himself, but he knows if he passes it, we have a one-on-one with the goalkeeper and those are easy.”
Gibault senior defender Ryan Gool said the Hawks weren’t prepared on the play.
“We didn’t have much communication,” Gool said. “I thought that they didn’t set the ball down. But the ref said (a goal) was the ruling.”
Pioneers coach Jeremy Stanton held his breath as his team protected the lead.
“We had a couple of our starters go out, so we put numbers back a little bit to try to defend,” Stanton said, referring to injuries to freshman Camden Brown and sophomore Nathan Clay, the Pioneers leading scorer. “A great team like that is going to keep coming at you, coming at you. We kept defending and fighting them off and held on.
“They had some quality chances. It was an awesome defensive effort.”
Gibault came close on many occasions in the second half.
Rocca hit the football crossbar with a hard shot just 10 seconds into the half. Less than a minute later, senior Ben Mueth’s shot was tipped out by junior goalie Christian Lopez.
Davis made an exceptional save on Clay after Clay beat two defenders at the 47-minute mark, and after the Pioneers scored, Lopez made another strong save when he leaped to catch sophomore Karson Huels’ free kicks from 30 yards out.
Rocca hit the crossbar at 67:43, and Mueth had a low shot that was gathered up by Lopez at 71:08. Normal U. High played keepaway, and barely succeeded, in the last few minutes.
“I’m very proud of how we played,” Davis said. “I thought we played hard and I thought we deserved it. But sometimes God works in weird ways. We just have to learn from it.”
Gibault failed to convert on any of its 13 corner kicks.