WOOD RIVER — It could have been a precursor for a Class 1A postseason showdown Tuesday at the Wood River Soccer Park, if so the benefit went to the East Alton-Wood River Oilers.
The Oilers defeated the Metro East Lutheran Knights 2-1. With the win EA-WR improved to 6-3, while the Knights dipped to 5-4-1.
“What another great game between East Alton-Wood River and Metro,” MELHS head coach Noah Enke said, who's squad lost to the Oilers 3-2 in regular season and postseason meetings last season. “This is by far our greatest rivalry I've seen in a while. Last year they beat us both times in the last couple of minutes. This time they took a quick lead and we almost caught back up to them.”
EA-WR senior Zac Lafferty understands how quality of a win Tuesday was for he and his teammates. It could have playoff seeding implications down the road.
“Every time we play them it's a good game,” said Lafferty, who had a goal and an assist on Tuesday. “I'm just glad we're out playing against another quality team like they are. This could definitely help determine seeding for regionals. Them, Althoff, our regional is definitely tough, but getting this win helps us get a higher seed so we don't have to play an Althoff the first round and we can build up to that.”
Lafferty got it started for the Oilers in the fifth minute. He accepted a pass from sophomore Jake Erlson, broke in, juked a defender and beat MELHS goalie Thomas Schroader to give EA-WR an early 1-0 advantage. It was Lafferty's eighth goal of the season.
The Oilers struck again in the 16th minute. Lafferty fed fellow senior Luke Sims who buried a goal from just outside the top of the box to extend EA-WR's lead to 2-0.
“On paper if you're just going by results, they tied Freeburg 4-4, we lost 1-0, but we also missed eight breakaways and gave up one shot to (Freeburg) and we had 18 or so,” Oiler coach Mike Lawson said. “I didn't think it was going to be evenly matched coming in (vs. MELHS). I thought we were going to be the better team and I think the first half absolutely displayed that. They had one opportunity and it was created by our defensive breakdown. They didn't give us many fits. Noah has them playing aggressive, like you should in soccer. They have (Kedric Norwood) with 18 goals and not against the best competition, not to take anything away from him, but we didn't mark him, it was just be aware of where he's at.”
Metro was able to take advantage of EA-WR's defensive breakdown in the 26th minute. Noah Landers worked his way in behind an Oiler defender and touched a nice crossing pass in front of the EA-WR goal to the foot of Kyle Asbury who finished it, cutting the deficit to 2-1.
“When you have special players like Kedric the opposition has to play according to it, which opens gaps for other players,” Enke said. “We've got a lot of talent on this team and it was good to show Landers dominating his foot skills on a sideline and finding a cross to Kyle who is from East Alton. It's good for him to get a goal here in a rivalry game.”
That proved to be the extent of the scoring as the game went into halftime with score 2-1 in favor of the Oilers. Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the second half.
For the game EA-WR outshot the Knights 10-8, but lost the corner battle 3-2.
The Knights pressured late, but to no avail. In the 69th minute Metro got the ball behind goalie D.J. Redden, but an EA-WR defender was able to clear it out.
During the 73rd minute, Metro's Stephen Korte took a free kick on goal from midfield, but Redden caught the shot to thwart the threat and secure the lead and ultimately the victory.
Lafferty, Sims and Jordan Schmidgall highlight a senior class for the Oilers which is looking to become the winningest class in school history. That's the goal for the group, but Lafferty admitted they have to start finishing better to find more success. Currently the senior crew has been a part of 51 wins in the program.
“This year we just have a goal set on eight wins and we can be the winningest class in school history,” Lafferty said. “Every since my freshman year we've built this program. Every year we're just building and building and building. Hopefully this year we can get by regionals and move on to sectionals.
“Finishing has been our problem this year and I take full responsibility for that, I haven't been finishing a lot of my chances. I finish about 10 percent of my chances which is not a real good percentage. We just need to work as a team and hopefully we can finish more.”
Lawson praises his seniors and hopes they can leave a lasting legacy on a youthful group he has around them.
“When you have three leaders in the middle of the field from you center back, to your mid, to your forward, that help keeps things going well for sure,” Lawson said. “(Schmidgall) is Scott Gallagher raised. Luke is the same thing. They are about as quality as we've ever had in our program. Zac just kind of feeds off of those two. He's got a ton of speed. There are very few kids that are keeping up when he's making his way up the field.”
Lawson agreed with Lafferty's assessment that finishing is the key to the success of EA-WR moving forward.
“It's kind of been the story of our team this year, not finishing,” he said. “We're having multiple chances in the game just one-on-one with the keeper and you don't finish, that keeps a team hanging around. The 2-1 looks like a close game, but I thought we were by far the better team today. (MELHS) works hard and does some things, but as far as soccer, we're a better team than they were and I think the result could have definitely been more, but again, we're not finishing when we need to and that kind of kills us.”