JEFFERSON CITY — Payton McCallister has been one of the biggest stars of a successful season for the Rock Bridge girls soccer team, and even on a rainy Thursday in Jefferson City, she shined when it mattered most.

After a largely defensive matchup, Rock Bridge crossed the ball into Jefferson City’s box. When the Jays failed to clear it, McCallister shot one just over Megan Duffield’s outstretched arms for the winning goal in the Bruins’ 2-1 victory in the Class 4 District 9 championship.

“It was so exciting,” McCallister said of knocking in the goal. “Just being with these girls and this team, it’s awesome.”

The Jays (10-15) had one last chance to tie it up on a free kick with 11 seconds left, but a Bruins’ defensive wall kept the ball away from the goal.

“It’s a tough place to play. We knew Jeff City was gonna bring a great game today. They had good energy and good fans, and we had to match that,” said coach Gary Drewing, whose Bruins improved to 17-5-1.

The first half featured physical play on both sides, resulting in multiple free kicks.

Neither team could get anything going until Caroline Cole was tripped about 40 yards out with just more than 25 minutes left. Allison Floyd launched the ball into the box on the ensuing free kick, but Duffield got a hand on it. However, Duffield couldn’t keep control of the slick ball, and it bounced into the goal to put the Bruins up 1-0.

“Goalies have trouble when the ball is wet, and the ball was definitely wet today,” Drewing said. “It was a fortunate bounce.”

The next 20 minutes saw both goalies continue to stifle their opponents’ attacks. Cole got a look from just outside the box with at the 20:01 mark, but Duffield made a diving stop to keep the Bruins’ lead at one. The Jays challenged Rock Bridge’s Eryn Puett three times from 15:53 to 13:36, but the sophomore was able to keep all three shots out of the net.

A minute later, Beni Adelstein ran down a ball that looked certain to go out of play and kicked it right into the middle of the Jefferson City box. Duffield knocked it down, but the ball went right to Cole’s feet. Cole looked to have a clear shot, but two Jays defenders got their bodies in front and kept the score at 1-0.

With three minutes left in the half, Jefferson City finally broke through. Tessa Sigmund took the ball up the right side of the field and crossed one right to Daelynn Scheulen in front of Rock Bridge’s net. Scheulen chipped the ball just over a sliding Puett for the equalizer.

Both squads continued their tough defense to start the second half until McCallister’s goal gave the Bruins the lead, and Puett put on a clinic in goal for the rest of the match.

With 13:50 left, Puett stopped a cross from Jefferson City’s Sasha Campbell that was right on target, and she again got her body in front of a free kick from just outside the box that was headed for the left corner with nine minutes remaining.

“It feels good to help my team out,” Puett said. “The defense was amazing. They saved me so many times.”

Puett and the rest of the defense suppressed every attack from the Jays up to the last-second free-kick attempt, and Rock Bridge will head back to Columbia with its second straight district championship.

The Bruins will now head into a sectional matchup with Kickapoo. Although it’s been awhile since the squads faced off, Drewing is ready for another battle with the Chiefs.

“We’ve seen the team before, but we haven’t seen them in a while,” Drewing said. “A whole season’s gone by, but we know it’ll be a competitive game.”

The sectional game between Rock Bridge and Kickapoo will kick off Tuesday. The time had not been announced as of Thursday night.