REINBECK - Gladbrook-Reinbeck was playing in front of its hometown fans, outshot Gilbert by nearly a 2-to-1 margin and dominated in time of possession.
But it's the Tigers, not the Rebels, who are moving on.
Gilbert struck for the go-ahead goal 54 seconds into the match and tacked on a penalty kick in the first half, helping the Tigers topple No. 11-ranked Gladbrook-Reinbeck with a 2-0 decision in Friday's Class 1A Region 4 semifinal.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck senior Emily Snider, right, looks up to see her header going toward the far post during the second half of Friday’s Class 1A Region 4 semifinal in Reinbeck. The Rebels were blanked for the first time all season as Gilbert advanced to Monday’s regional finals with a 2-0 victory. Defending on the play for the visiting Tigers is junior Sadie Timms.
Photo by Ross Thede
Not even the state's second-leading scorer could puncture Gilbert's defense, which secured its seventh shutout victory of the season to reach Monday's regional title match at No. 5 Nevada (11-6). Goalkeeper Cali Koeneke finished with 15 saves, though none of them had to be anything near spectacular thanks to the defense in front of her.
G-R senior forward Emily Snider was marked, shadowed and targeted by the Tigers (12-5), who became the first team to blank the Rebels (10-4) this season.
"Their defense was all over us," said G-R head coach Cheryl Pease. "We tend to be a second-half team anyway, but we were finally able to shake that in the second half of the season. But in the end, it is what it is.
"They played as they have all season: all-out, full speed until the final whistle."
Gladbrook-Reinbeck got 29 shots off, 15 of which were on goal, but barely any of them came without considerable pressure from Gilbert's defense. Snider said after the match she liked how the referees let the two teams play, but the physicality of the Tigers' back line made it hard for her to add to her whopping tally of 35 goals.
"Every time I switched sides of the field they communicated very well to let them know where I was at," Snider said. "Union and Waverly-Shell Rock are the only other teams to do that."
Those were also the only teams to beat Gladbrook-Reinbeck prior to Friday's regional semifinal - the 2A No. 9 Go-Hawks (twice) and the 2A No. 11 Knights.
Gilbert came out looking to score right off the opening whistle, as Megan Herrington caught up to a long lead pass to the corner and fed a perfect centering pass back to the team's top scorer, Joy Battles. The junior redirected the ball into the far corner, away from a diving Erin Wentzien, and the Tigers took a 1-0 lead just 54 seconds into the contest.
"We talk all the time about the first two minutes, we were trying to put pressure on right away," said Gilbert coach Dan Jones. "We knew coming into here we had to start fast and bombard the goal because we knew their No. 5 (Snider) could score in bunches. But I don't think we gave her a ton of clean looks."
Battles notched her 15th goal of the season, and the two teams played a stalemate for the next 22 minutes. Snider, meanwhile, was sent off with a yellow card after colliding with Koeneke at the 23:30 mark, and Gilbert took advantage of the opportunity to control the ball more.
Herrington's cross to Katie Reed yielded a breakaway chance that Wentzien interrupted without getting her hands on the ball, and the Tigers were rewarded with a penalty kick. Johanna Holck finished that one off for a 2-0 Gilbert advantage with 9:17 left in the first half.
By the time Snider came back onto the pitch, the Rebels were facing a two-goal deficit with 4:25 to go prior to intermission. Not an insurmountable margin for a team averaging five goals a game, but definitely a more daunting task considering the Tigers' defensive aptitude.
"They're as good as advertised," Jones said of the Rebels. "This was a fabulous game. In the second half we knew we were going to have to withstand the volleys at some point, because they were going to come at us. Gladbrook-Reinbeck has a lot of good people up top."
The Rebels blitzed Koeneke with 10 shots on goal in the second half alone, not to mention the rolling right-footer Snider fired up that hit the crossbar in the 45th minute.
Hanna Christopher fed Snider a pass following a Nicole Adair throw-in deep in Gilbert territory, and Snider's header appeared destined to cut the Rebels' deficit in half but it bounded wide of the far post instead.
Another golden opportunity presented itself in the 59th minute as Snider sent a centering pass that Taylor Weida played just left and high of the net.
With the Rebels pressing the offensive zone, Gilbert gained a pair of late scoring chances that Wentzien stopped, and Gladbrook-Reinbeck's chance at a comeback finally ran out of time.
"We just thought if we could play our style - high pressure in the middle and speed in the back - that we could get it done," said Pease. "That first goal (for Gilbert) just happened so fast, and I think our girls realized they had to step it up.
"Our (shots on goal) numbers are ridiculous, but so frustrating."
Kyleah Dugan registered an unofficial save when Wentzien went down trying to prevent Battles from putting Gilbert up 3-0 early in the second half, as the sophomore defenseman recovered and made a point-blank stop with her feet stuck to the near post.
Wentzien finished with nine saves in her final game in a G-R uniform. Fellow seniors Madison Corwin, Kayle Folkerts, Rachel Bown and Snider also saw their last minutes on the pitch for the Rebels.