ALTON — Nicknamed mamba, Alton senior Eric Ferenbach was able to strike once and his bite was enough to lead the Redbirds past rival Edwardsville 1-0 at Gordon Moore Park on Thursday.
It was the first win for the Birds against the Southwestern Conference powerhouse since Sept. 23, 2006. With the win, Alton improved to 9-4-3 overall and 2-0-1 on the conference circuit. The Tigers dipped to 10-3-3 and 2-2-1 in the SWC.
“That was definitely the biggest one, because that was definitely the biggest win we've had,” Ferenbach said of scoring his team-leading 18th goal of the season. “It was just a huge goal.”
Edwardsville is known for its stellar defense and it did a good job of bottling Ferenbach up for much of the game. AHS head coach Jay Robertson said it was just about continuing to work and being patient for an opportunity and when his talented forward got it, he finished it.
“You've just got to wait for your opportunities and he had to keep making his runs,” Robertson said. “We talked at halftime, he had made some nice runs off the ball and some nice diagonals, but we just weren't getting it to the right spot. But we spread out and (Matt) Bower really worked to get a deflection and things spread out in the back and (Ferenbach) got some space and put it away.”
Ferenbach's strike came in the 48th minute. The EHS defense wasn't able to clear it out and Bower was there to deflect it back in. Ferenbach found it in front, settled it and worked in front of Edwardsville goalie Trey Riley before blistering a ball into the bottom of the net near the right post.
It turned out to be all the offense either team could muster.
Mark Heiderscheid, head coach of the Tigers, gave props to Ferenbach for how he's progressed as a scorer this season.
“We're going to collectively defend, so we're not going to mark him out, that's not going to be helpful for us,” Heiderscheid said. “We're going to go ahead and make sure we drop because Eric's a very fast and very dangerous attacker. From last year to this year his improvement has been tremendous.”
Heiderscheid was frustrated by the fact the Tigers outshot the Redbirds 6-5 and beat them on corners 7-1 and couldn't convert. EHS was unable to get a shot off of any of those corners.
“We had seven corners so therefore we're getting some territory and knocking the ball around pretty effectively, but it was one of those games where at halftime I could have predicted it,” Heiderscheid said. “We've got some possession, we're getting in around the box, but when you don't take care of that then you're so vulnerable to the counter and that's really the sport of soccer. It's not like football where all the sudden you've got territory, going in there and good things are going to happen. In soccer you're almost more vulnerable when you've got the ball and you're going forward because some complacency sets in and they just jump on the right ball and they knock it in and after that it's how can you keep the game out and it was good tactics by Alton. We had chances second half and we weren't able to finish and that's the way it goes.”
Robertson added, “It's always scary giving up seven corners. You never want that going on.”
Edwardsville freshman Bryce Glisson was able to get the first shot off in the game in the eighth minute, but Alton goalie Devin Colley was able to make a diving save on the ball.
Colley had some big plays throughout, leaping and grabbing loose balls out of scrums and denying the Tigers when they were able to get chances. As a first-year goalie, Robertson said his athleticism stands out.
“He's a very athletic kid and this is his first year playing,” Robertson said. “He's got good hands and he's really learning the game. He's got a big time vertical and anything in the air he can go up and get.”
Colley said he's just trying to learn the nuances of the game and do what he can to help the Redbirds.
“I just try and go out and get everything I can,” Colley said. “This is my first year of soccer and I'm still learning the game, but I felt pretty confident today.”
Ferenbach had a good chance in front in the 12th minute for Alton, but Riley was able to corral it for the Tigers. It sent it into the break with a scoreless tie.
It all changed after Ferenbach's goal. EHS had to play with more urgency and the Birds were able to spread things out and weather the storm.
“It seamed to energize our kids,” Robertson said. “We played hard, got control of the ball more in the second half and we started using width a lot more. We talked about getting the ball to the wing mids and spreading the field out and just knocking it around.”
The game got physical, especially at the end with some flared tempers in the waning moments. Robertson credited it to the rivalry and the tight games the two SWC teams have played in recent history.
“Just building up from last year, we tied them early and then lost in double overtime at their place,” Robertson said. “It's a heated game now and anything in the conference becomes physical games and with the playoffs the kids are getting fired up for that. It's a big game.”
Ferenbach said it's the shot of confidence the Redbirds need moving into the homestretch of the season.
“It's huge,” Ferenbach said. “The rush after the game, you could just feel it. We feel we could do good in the playoffs and we haven't really showed up in the playoffs. This is the year I think.”