LEBANON • It had been nearly two full seasons since Lauren Fischer had to participate in penalty kicks, and the first time she did not emerge as the winning goalkeeper.
The Alton Marquette sophomore managed to even her record in such situations on Wednesday, and even looked like an old pro in the process.
Fischer, whose only previous experience in penalty kicks came during a season-opening loss to Waterloo in 2015, stopped two of Gibault’s five shooters with diving saves to her left. The last save secured the Explorers’ 1-0 (4-3 PKs) victory in a Class 1A sectional semifinal at McKendree University’s Leemon Field.
“I’m very excited about it, obviously,” Fischer said. “I just went with which side I thought they were shooting to, and I’m glad I could get that result for my team.”
Fischer, who made eight saves in regulation and overtime to record her third solo shutout of the season, helped give the Explorers a chance to win their sixth consecutive sectional championship. Alton Marquette (12-9-3), No. 9 in the STLhighschoolsports.com rankings for small schools, will face No. 3 Columbia (15-5-2) in a sectional final scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday at McKendree.
The Hawks (9-11) lost in the sectional semifinals for the fourth year in a row, but were glad to challenge the Explorers, who beat them 5-0 on April 26 at Alton Marquette. Gibault even had the upper hand in some ways in the rematch, finishing with an 8-5 advantage in shots on goal.
“It was definitely good to compete,” Gibault senior goalie Abbie Meyer said. “We gave it everything we’ve got and worked hard. We did everything we could.”
Alton Marquette and Gibault took a combined 10 corner kicks and took turns threatening to score during regulation and overtime, but Fischer and Meyer didn’t budge. Fischer jumped to stop a shot by the Hawks’ Abby Phelps in the 69th minute, and two minutes later Meyer made a diving save on a point-blank shot by the Explorers’ Elisa Senno.
Alton Marquette came excruciatingly close to scoring two other times. Clair Dalton hit the left post late in the first half, and Adrianna Schindler clanged a shot off the crossbar late in the second half.
“It was really nerve wracking,” Schindler said. “We had a few crossbars and some shots weren’t falling. We just couldn’t get one.”
The Explorers were perfect while shooting second in penalty kicks, though, with Bailey Hartrich, Lauren Walsh, Senno and Schindler scoring in succession. Robyn Lindsey, Maddie O’Neill and Phelps converted for the Hawks, but seniors Abby Hasenstab and Carley Olson couldn’t get the ball past Fischer as Gibault’s first and fifth shooters.
Fischer said she took a cue from Alton Marquette coach Steve Mitchell before the final attempt, going with his guess that Olson would aim to her right. She did, and Fischer deflected it off the goal frame to seal the Explorers’ season-high third win in a row.
“She’s a wild player,” Hasenstab said of Fischer. “She guessed all of our sides on the PKs, and she was all over the ball during the entire game. She’s a good goalie.”