Nothing seems to faze Columbia freshman Chloe Graff.
Graff racked up two more goals Wednesday and they were enough for the Eagles to defeat Mater Dei 2-1 in the semifinals of the Class 1A Althoff Sectional.
The game was played at McKendree University.
“I think it was just a lot of teamwork,” Graff said of the victory, Columbia’s sixth in succession. “We have great chemistry together. Our team is really bonding.”
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We have incredible freshmen. (Graff) makes us dangerous. She’s a hustler. I’ve called her the little gnat all year for that reason. She’s a gnat to people. She’s incredible.
Columbia girls soccer coach Jamey Bridges on freshman Chloe Graff
Graff has scored seven goals in the last four games to give her 11 this season. The Eagles, who improved to 15-5-2, will play Marquette in the championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“We have incredible freshmen,” Columbia coach Jamey Bridges said. “(Graff) makes us dangerous. She’s a hustler. I’ve called her the little gnat all year for that reason. She’s a gnat to people. She’s incredible.”
Mater Dei, whose goal was scored by senior Macey Endres, finished 11-10-2.
“It’s the postseason. You survive and move on,” a relieved Bridges said.
Columbia appeared to be on its way to a blowout in the early minutes.
Graff scored on a nice feed from sophomore Taylor Parks at 4 minutes, 5 seconds to put the Eagles on top 1-0. At 11:22, Graff raced to a kick by junior Blair Wittenbrink and was undefended when she tapped in the easy goal to make it 2-0.
But Endres’ perfect free kick from the left side sailed into the upper right corner of the net following a Columbia foul and got the Knights within 2-1 at 17:44.
“We were able to get one, but not a second,” Mater Dei coach Jesse Essenpreis said. “Pretty much at halftime, we talked about this was going to be a game where we get one or two chances, three at the most, in the second half. I think we got zero, honestly. We knew they were going to be coming at us and they were going to control the possession.”
Columbia’s a really good team. They outskilled us in quite a few positions and they have a couple of girls that are ridiculously fast that we couldn’t really contain.
Mater Dei girls soccer coach Jesse Essenpreis
Columbia outshot Mater Dei 14-1 and hit the crossbar twice in the second half, once by freshman Sophia Bonaldi and another time by junior Madelyne “Mo” Juenger.
“I think the second half, we controlled play,” Bridges said. “We hit the post a couple of times, we had some opportunities. All that is mental at that point. How do we keep playing the way we play, but defensively keep sound and stay focused, especially as they’re getting frustrated? I saw them getting frustrated. Again, it becomes mental. They stayed strong.”
Essenpreis said the Knights lost to a better squad.
“Columbia’s a really good team,” he said. “They outskilled us in quite a few positions and they have a couple of girls that are ridiculously fast that we couldn’t really contain.”
Cutler shines in goal
Sophomore Quinn Cutler was outstanding in goal for Mater Dei. She made several strong saves in the second half, which only added to Columbia’s frustration.
“Quinn Cutler is a beast, flat-out,” Essenpreis said. “As a sophomore, I don’t know if you could ask much more out of her. She’s got a great body for the position, she wants to get better, she works in the offseason. I think we have one of the best young goalkeepers in the area. The people that were here would agree. If she keeps working, she’s going to go somewhere.”
Marquette 1, Gibault 0
The Explorers (12-9-3) outscored Gibault 4-3 in penalty kicks to advance to the title game against Columbia. Marquette and the Eagles did not meet in the regular season.
Marquette blanked Gibault 5-0 on April 26 at Gordon Moore Park in Alton, but the rematch was scoreless after 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime.
In the penalty-kicks period, the Explorers gained an early advantage when Gibault senior Abby Hasenstab’s shot caromed off the right post. Senior Bailey Hartrich then converted.
The next six shots were good by Gibault’s Robyn Lindsey, Maddie O’Neill and Abby Phelps and by Marquette’s Lauren Walsh, Elisa Senno and Adriana Schindler.
Schindler’s shot put the Explorers ahead 4-3, and when sophomore goalie Lauren Fischer clinched Marquette’s win by making a save by Hawks senior Carley Olson.
“It’s very exciting,” Fischer said. “I’m really happy for the team. They’re a really good team and I think that was a very good win.”
Gibault finishes 9-11
Hawks players shared hugs and tears after the hard-fought contest, which included both teams hitting the crossbar with shots in the second half.
“I think we deserved to win that game,” Gibault coach Hanna Schuermann said. “Marquette wasn’t expecting us to be 0-0 for 80 minutes. So I think we deserved it.
“I hate PKs. I think soccer needs to keep going, even with my 12 players. Our bench isn’t deep, but every single one of them competed. I truly think we probably deserved to win the game if we had kept playing. We’ve been ready for them. We were prepared for what they had.”
Senior goalie Abbie Meyer made three sensational saves in the second half to help keep Gibault in contention.
“Abbie Meyer is one heck of a player,” Schuermann said. “She came out last year and got a couple of minutes behind our other goalie. She started and played every game this year and was a stud. She was a rock start.”
It was no consolation for Meyer.
“It’s definitely upsetting to lose like this, but I’m just glad we put up a good battle,” Meyer said. “Marquette is a good team. I’m just glad we were able to fight through to the finish. Even though we didn’t finish, we still worked really hard all the way through.
“PKs are always rough. It’s more of a guessing game. I was just trying to get a hand on anything I could. Unfortunately, Alton Marquette was really good at finding the corners, so I wasn’t able to get a hand on (the ball).”