Gibault Hawks win sectionals

The Gibault Hawks boys soccer team gathers for a team prayer after their sectional championship win. (Jeremy Kovarik photo)

Last season, the Gibault soccer team was flying high heading into their sectional game. The Hawks had just earned an exciting playoff victory over rival Columbia, and would face Alton Marquette, a team they had beaten twice in the regular season. In a shocking result, Gibault fell 3-2 in an overtime heartbreaker. Just like that, their season was over.

On Friday night, the Hawks found themselves in an eerily similar scenario. Coming off an exhilarating win over Columbia, the Hawks were matched up against Althoff, a team they had crushed 3-0 in the regular season.

There would be no letdown this year.

On a frigid night at Columbia high school, the Hawks defeated Catholic rival Althoff 2-1, to claim the sectional championship.

It was clear from the start that this match would be much more evenly played than the teams’ previous meeting, as both teams came out firing. Althoff was noticeably strong and aggressive, and the Crusaders nearly got on the board four minutes into the game, but a free kick bounced off the crossbar and out.

Five minutes later, Gibault would answer the scare by converting their first scoring chance. Frank Mantia’s beautiful cross found Zach Rueter, who nodded it home for the 1-0 lead.

Althoff continued to attack after giving up the goal, and the Crusaders were rewarded for their efforts 13 minutes later, when a rocket shot from just outside the box tied the game at one apiece.

With 12 minutes left in the half, Althoff had a chance to take the lead when a takedown in the box resulted in a Crusader penalty kick. The ensuing penalty missed high and wide, though it would not matter as it was called off for an illegal movement by the kicker. Gibault breathed a sigh of relief, and the teams stood deadlocked at one going into the half.

Both sides stepped up the intensity in the second half, as there were several great scoring chances and plenty of end-to-end action.

The Hawks finally broke through with 27 minutes remaining in the game. Once again, it was Frank Mantia who set up the play. The senior played a long, perfect through ball to give teammate Wes Degener a breakaway. Degener beat the Althoff keeper with a bullet to the back of the net, putting the Hawks ahead, 2-1.

Desperate to save their season, Althoff poured on the pressure, but goalkeeper Austin Gregson and the Gibault defense were equal to the task. Gregson parried away several good shots, and the defense made some key adjustments to stifle and wear down the Crusaders’ offensive attack.

When the final buzzer sounded, the players celebrated on the field with the Gibault faithful. But the Hawks were determined that this would not be their last celebration.

“We’re not done yet,” said coach Matt Reeb. “We’re hungry for a state trip.”

Gibault will need just one more win to make that trip. The Hawks play next Tuesday night in Collinsville, against either Litchfield or Quincy Notre Dame.

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