GRANITE CITY -- After a week off, the Granite City Warriors returned to the soccer pitch on Tuesday, when they played the Jersey Panthers in their final regular season home game.
“It felt great to be back,” Granite City senior defender Cole Phelps said.
And the Warriors were glad to leave Gene Baker Field with another victory. Granite City won its third straight match with a 3-0 win over the Panthers.
“The kids are doing well,” Granite City coach Kenny Jackson said. “They’re playing hard and we’re putting the ball in the net finally and that obviously changes games.”
The Warriors improved to 4-8-3, surpassing last year’s win total of three. They also finished with an undefeated regular season at home, going 3-0-4.
Granite City tied Edwardsville, CBC, Springfield and Belleville West and also had wins over Sacred Heart-Griffin and Belleville East at home.
“That’s great for the kids,” Jackson said. “They can hang their head on that they went undefeated at home.”
The Warriors wrap up their regular season at 6:30 p.m. Thursday with a road match against the O’Fallon Panthers.
Granite City will return to Gene Baker Field at noon Saturday, when it plays Pekin in a first-round match of the Class 3A Granite City Regional.
“We want to make sure we’re revving our engines up and we’re ready to go and we’re getting our minds in the right spot, but we also want to be healthy,” Jackson said. “So hopefully, we’ll have a good showing on Thursday and we’ll come out here on Saturday and hopefully we’ll get a playoff win.”
Jackson the win over Jersey was pretty special for the large senior class. Granite City has 12 seniors on its squad and all of them played on Tuesday.
“Those guys have been a part of the program for a number of years,” Jackson said. “It’s good for them to get out on their home field.”
Three of those seniors scored goals against the Panthers. Nathan Tanthavong gave the Warriors a 1-0 with his fifth goal of the season with 29 minutes, 15 seconds left in the first half. Sam Oritz scored his fourth goal of the year with 12:19 left in the match to extend Granite City’s lead to 2-0. Luke Rainwater boost the lead to 3-0 with his team-leading sixth goal with 7:09 to go.
“We came out to play,” Phelps said. “It’s been a few days that we’ve been off, so we had to come out strong and keep it going. It felt great to do that.”
Jackson said the goals by Ortiz and Rainwater in the second half were huge.
“It was nice to put the game to bed,” the third-year Granite City coach said. “When you’re up 1-0, it’s a little bit nerve-wracking. You never know what’s going to happen. It can take a throw-in or a goal kick or a dead ball make the game 1-1 and it’s a much different feel ending the game. It was an excellent job by our guys not to get too frustrated with the number of chances they had and still continued to attack and make scoring opportunities.”
Sophomore Braden Dickerson recorded the shutout in goal. He finished with three saves, including one with 36:59 left in the second half, when he caught a free kick by Jersey’s Logan Simpson.
“He’s got a real commanding voice on the box,” Jackson said.
Jersey finished its regular season at 14-7-1 with Tuesday’s loss. The Panthers, who will play Highland in the Class 2A Jacksonville Regional semifinals next week, have lost four of their last five matches.
“It was certainly a game that we can use to get our legs back underneath us to go play O’Fallon on Thursday for our last regular season game,” Jackson said.
The Warriors outscored their opponents 8-0 during their three-match winning streak.
“We’ve been playing like we usually have and that’s playing smart and not stupid,” Phelps said. “We’ve been scoring a lot more.”
Granite City hadn’t played a match since Oct. 4, when it defeated Belleville East 2-0 for its first Southwestern Conference win of the season.
“We had Homecoming over the weekend, so we had the kids four days off (of practice) to kind of rest and relax and get themselves right for the last week,” Jackson said.
So far, the Warriors’ final week of the regular season is off to a good start.