EDWARDSVILLE - The Alton High boys soccer team was dealt a major blow during warmups when leading scorer Dillan Cowan injured his ankle during warmups and was unavailable for their IHSA Class 3A regional semifinal match at Edwardsville.
Evan Moore then scored a first-half brace (two goals), while Troy Chenault scored in the second half to give the Tigers a 3-0 win over the Redbirds early Tuesday evening at Tiger Stadium, allowing Edwardsville to advance to the final on Saturday afternoon against Collinsville, who defeated Quincy in the second semifinal 3-0.
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It was a very workmanlike effort for the Tigers in the match as Edwardsville took advantage of chances and played very solid defense, not allowing the Redbirds many opportunities.
"It's good, because honestly, in tournament play, it's about can you get the win?," said Edwardsville head coach Mark Heiderscheid, "and then, move on to the next level. Because when it comes to IHSA tournament play, I've been doing this for way too many years," he said with a chuckle, "and it's about kind of win and advance. And so, I think we did enough; there are times when a few things you could have done a little better because it's basically a stepping stone to try and better our team to get the next one.
"Because you're always looking at that win and getting ready to play the next opponent, whoever that might be. But either way, I think in this case, we got the requisite goals, we got a goal early, had two by the half. In the second half, we had so many opportunities to put it in, quite a few goals that's good. We moved the ball very well, people are healthy. And so, I think we set ourselves in a good position. We'd like a couple of other ones, but you know what? We did the job. That was that, and we had a shutout, so that's fine."
The Tigers didn't get a goal on a shot that bounced off the corner of support inside the net that quickly bounced out and also had another goal not given on an off-side decision that many of the fans disagreed with. Edwardsville dealt very well with the adversity and kept going.
"We had a couple of other ones that hit into the net," Heiderscheid said, "an off-sides or so and one that pinged into the post. It was super close that was kind of 50-50, but we really didn't need those. The player would have liked the goal," he said with a laugh, "but we had the win, and so I think that's a good thing about it. And so, I think the fact we were creating those chances is really what you want to see. The kids did an ample job there. And then, it's trying to play for the regional championship after that."
Although the Redbirds were eliminated, the second half of their season was a very successful one, in which Alton won five of their final eight regular season games. The players kept working hard and never gave up, which is a very good sign for the team's future.
"Well, disappointed that this season's coming to an end," said Redbird head coach Greg Nasello. "We worked so hard since June to get to where we are. In the second half of the season, we knew it was going to be tough to start; I was asking the kids to play a different way, asking them to be different kinds of players. They responded to it very well, but we knew it was going to take some time before we got into the flow.
"And second half, we made a goal as a team in our last eight games, we want a winning record. We did that, we got five out of eight. One of our second goals along the way was to start working on some little things we needed to get better by playoff time, to compete with teams like Edwardsville and Collinsville. And I thought we did that. It was unfortunate we had some injuries tonight before the game even got started and that really hurts."
The most significant was the loss of Cowan, the team's leading scorer, during the warmups, where he twisted an ankle and was on crutches afterward. It dealt a huge blow to the Redbirds' chances.
"It sure does," Nasello said. "Any team that loses its top goal scorer; he's got 14 goals this year, that's tough to replace. Thirty seconds or three minutes before game time," he also said with a laugh. "I'll tell you this: Our guys, we brought them over, like more adversity, they've gotta handle that. That's what life's about, handle it and move on, and they did.
"Even when we gave up goals, we didn't quit. We maintained our look, we maintained our shape. We kept coming at them the best we could. One thing we always say is you get punched in the mouth, you punch back and they did. They didn't quit and I thought it was the mark of the whole second half of the season was that. I hope that's what we're going to carry into next year."
The Tigers took the early lead in the fourth minute when Moore slotted home a shot from close range to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead. The Redbirds were determined to show they meant business, and in the eighth minute, defender Miles Martin was booked after a hard foul. Edwardsville kept coming, though, and in the 10th minute, another chance for Moore was cleared off the line. The Redbirds showed some pluck and were able to move forward at times, but couldn't get a good shot away.
In the 32nd minute, Moore hit a shot from distance that eluded the Alton keeper and into the back of the net to double the Tigers' lead at 2-0, where the score stood at halftime. In the 47th minute, Chenault took a brilliant cross at the edge of the box, turned and shot in the inside of the post into the bottom right corner of the net to increase Edwardsville's lead to 3-0.
The Tigers thought they scored twice more, one on a shot by Moore that had looked to just go inside the upper left intersection of the post and bar, and hit the support on the inside of the goal, but was disallowed by the referee. Shortly after, another Tiger goal wasn't given on an off-side call that was disputed. Both teams kept working hard, with the Redbirds having a couple of chances late, but were turned away as the Tigers went on to their 3-0 to advance to the regional final.
The Redbirds end their season 6-13-0, while the Tigers are now 12-6-1 and move on to the final against Collinsville Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. at Tiger Stadium. The winner of that match plays in the semifinals of the Normal Community West sectional against the winner of the Belleville West regional, either top seed O'Fallon, who defeated Granite City 4-1, or Belleville East, who won over Belleville West 2-0 on Tuesday, at a site in Metro-East to be announced on Oct. 24 at 4:30 p.m.
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