The Columbia Eagles continued their postseason run Saturday night with a 2-0 win over Freeburg to clinch the regional championship.
The Midgets came into the game flying high, and Columbia head coach Jason Mathenia was well aware. The Midgets were just days removed from a stunning upset over Althoff, and were looking to pull another shocker against the second-seeded Eagles. That’s why Mathenia stressed to his team the importance of establishing control early in the game.
Columbia did just that, scoring less than four minutes into the match en route to the win and their second straight regional championship.
It was Sean Rickey who gave the Eagles the early lead. The crafty junior midfielder, one of the shortest players on the team, rose above the Freeburg defense to score a header on a beautiful cross from teammate Noah Baumann. The goal fit perfectly into Mathenia’s game plan.
“That was part of our pregame talk — to make sure we don’t overlook these guys,” he said. “They’re coming in confident after upsetting Althoff. They’re coming in off a big win and if we don’t neutralize their emotions early and get the first goal, then we might find ourselves behind. Our guys stood up to that challenge and that first goal was a great goal by Sean Rickey.”
Columbia showed no signs of letting up after the early score. The Eagles maintained possession and swarmed the Midgets’ goal box, firing shot after shot at Freeburg keeper Mitch Buerck, who made several good saves on the night to keep the score relatively close.
With about 10 minutes remaining in the first half, Columbia struck again. Junior midfielder Adam Becker played a long ball down the sideline. Patrick McDermott chased it down, cut in toward the goal, and then slotted it past Buerck to make it 2-0, a lead the Eagles would take into halftime.
The second half was more of the same, as Columbia continued to dictate the pace of the game, dominating possession and scoring opportunities. The Midgets gained traction throughout the night, but were never able to generate any serious scoring chances against the Eagles’ staunch defense. Anything that got past the back line was easily snuffed out by Columbia keeper Jon Kuebler, as the freshman goalie recorded his second consecutive shutout.
Mathenia praised the Eagles defense after the game, noting that they have been the backbone of the team since the beginning of the year.
“Our back line has been superb all year,” he said. “We’ve gotten numerous shutouts against some really, really good opponents. I’m proud of them.”
With the win, the Eagles advance to the sectional semifinals, where they will face off against Anna Jonesboro on Tuesday night in Edwardsville.