LEBANON — Goals were at a premium Wednesday at McKendree University.
As a matter of fact, the Marquette Catholic Explorers decided their fate on penalty kicks in the Class 1A Althoff Sectional semifinals, defeating the Gibault Hawks 1-0. Marquette outshot the Hawks 4-3 on PKs after battling through regulation and two 10-minute overtimes in a scoreless stalemate.
With the win, the Explorers improved to 12-9-3 and advance to meet Columbia in the regional finals at 4 p.m. Saturday at McKendree. Gibault wrapped up its season at 9-11.
“It's very exciting. I'm very happy for this win,” Marquette goalie Lauren Fischer said. “They are a very good team and I think that was a very good win.”
It was Fischer's hand save on Carly Olson of the Hawks during the final PK that secured the victory for the Explorers. The team converged in front of the goal after the diving save with a celebratory mob with Fischer right in the mix.
“My coach (Steve Mitchell) told me which way I should go on that one, so I just went with what he said,” Fischer said.
Olson and Abby Hasenstab — Gibault's two leading scorers on the season — missed on PKs, the only two misses for the Hawks. Hasenstab missed the first of the series of kicks, hitting the left post.
“PKs are always a head game,” Gibault head coach Hanna Schuermann said. “It doesn't matter if you take 100 of them and you make 99, there's still the option you're going to miss or the goalie is going to come up with a big save. It just wasn't in our cards.”
Marquette converted on all four of its PK attempts, getting goals from Bailey Hartrich, Lauren Walsh, Elisa Senno and Adriana Schindler.
Wednesday was vastly different than the two teams' first meeting of the season on April 26 in Alton when the Explorers prevailed 5-0. The Hawks weren't at full strength that game and Marquette head coach Steve Mitchell knew it would be a tougher test at the sectional.
“Gibault is a good team,” Mitchell said. “We beat them 5-0 the first time and I knew it was in our head that way and they knew they had nothing to lose and I think the first half they came at us. We weren't ready. We didn't play the first half. We had a little chat and we played the second half and got some looks, but that team came to play and I kept telling these kids, playoffs the records go out the window, the past games go out the window. You've got to play.”
Schuermann believed her squad was more than capable of picking up the win Wednesday and they played that way. She hated seeing it decided on PKs.
“I hate PKs, I think soccer needs to keep going,” she said. “Even with my 12 players that played, our bench isn't deep and they competed. Every single one of them deserved to be out there and I truly think we deserved to win that game if we would have kept playing.
“We've been ready for them. We were prepared for what they had and I think we outplayed them. They weren't anything special. I think they're going to have a tough time against Columbia.”
For the game the Explorers outshot the Hawks 9-8 and beat them on corners 6-4.
The stellar work of Gibault goalie Abbie Meyer kept her team in it. Meyer made some nifty stops in the second half on some point-blank chances by the Explorers.
“She had a fantastic game,” Fischer said. “I was very impressed with all of her saves and I knew I had to keep it up at my end for my team, too.”
Fischer admitted battling through 100 minutes of scoreless soccer was nerve-wracking.
“It's very nerve-wracking and I'm just so glad it's over and I'm glad we got the win,” Fischer said with a glowing grin.
Now Marquette moves on to face a Columbia team it hasn't faced this season. The Eagles bested Mater Dei 2-1 in the first sectional semifinal match Wednesday. It's the sixth consecutive sectional final appearance for the Explorers.
Mitchell expects another tough test Saturday.
“I don't think they're as physical (as Gibualt), but they move the ball around,” Mitchell said. “They're a little slower paced team and they don't have any kind of up front like what Gibualt had. (Gibault) just beat us up, they're really physical. We're going to have to come to play (Saturday). From here on out we're going to have to come to play and we're going to have to take it to them. It's up to the kids. I can't play for them. I can only keep pressing, pressing the things they need to do and they're either going to do them or not. They battled (today) and came together in the second half and they got a victory out of it.”