ALTON — After a slow start, the Granite City Warriors are starting to get hot as their regular season comes down to its final week.
The Warriors have won seven of their last 10 matches, including a 3-1 win over the Marquette Catholic Explorers on Tuesday at Gordon Moore Park. Granite City is 7-5-3 with three regular season matches remaining.
“We’ve been keeping possession of the ball really well lately and that’s what is putting us ahead,” Granite City senior midfielder Emily Smith said.
Now, the Warriors are looking to beat another Alton school on Thursday. Granite City plays the Alton Redbirds in its final regular season home game at Gene Baker Field. The team will celebrate senior night as six seniors — Smith, Shelby Winn, Haley Davis, Isa Scaturro, Ciara Tieman and Paige Stanley — play their final home match.
The Warriors also have road matches against Edwardsville (May 9) and Chatham Glenwood (May 12) left on their regular season schedule. Granite City plays Belleville West in the Class 3A Granite City Regional semifinals on May 17.
The Warriors are looking to finish with their third straight winning season.
“We just have to keep our heart in it,” Smith said. “Once we keep it together and keep playing as a team and not as individuals, we’ll do good.”
Alton will take a 10-4-2 record into Thursday’s game with the Warriors. Edwardsville, which beat Alton on Tuesday, is 14-2-1. Glenwood is 5-5-3.
“They are three tough games,” Granite City coach Kenny Prazma said. “We just hope to be consistent. That’s what I ask them all of the time. We’re looking for consistency all year long and this is the best time to be consistent when you get ready to go into regionals. We’re hoping to have some good results out of those three games.”
The Explorers, who played their final regular season home match on Tuesday, dropped to 9-8-3 with the loss.
“It’s not fun, especially as a senior,” Marquette senior midfielder Bailey Hartrich said. “You kind of want to go out with a win.”
Marquette plays a match against Rochester — which beat the Explorers in super-sectional play the last two years — on Friday at Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.
Marquette returns to Gordon Moore Park on May 10, when it plays either Metro East Lutheran or East Alton-Wood River in the Class 1A Marquette Regional semifinals. The Explorers are the No. 1 seed.
The Warriors started their season at 0-2-3 after losing to Naperville Central and Lindbergh and tying O’Fallon, Springfield (Mo.) Kickapoo and Triad.
Granite City finished with a 3-0 record in the St. Louis Soccer Classic at St. Joseph’s Academy in early April. The Warriors also had wins over Belleville East, Highland and Ames (Iowa).
On Tuesday, junior Grace Neidhardt helped the Warriors pick up their seventh win by finishing with a two-goal performance. She scored both goals in the first half and is now tied with junior Lexi Grote for the team lead in goals with eight.
Neidhardt, who had two goals against Highland last week, scored her first goal with just six minutes into the first half. She scored again with 20 minutes left in the half.
“It’s good to get those goals early,” Prazma said. “Grace is a natural goal scorer. Sometimes those things come easy for us. She’s got the temperament for it. She’s calm when she’s on the ball, no matter where’s she at, and she takes her time and finds the back of the net.”
Freshman Rian Hutson gave the Warriors a 3-0 lead with a goal with 32:20 left in the second half. It was Hutson’s third goal of the season and her second in three matches.
“Rian is a freshman and we’re looking forward to with the four years that we have her,” Prazma said. “She’s a player. She’s on the right spot at the right time and she finds the back of the net and she’s a midfielder who can get forward. When we have time and if we’re playing good, it’s always a big plus.”
The Explorers ended the shutout after Maddie Connors scored her first goal of the season with 30 minutes left in the game.
“We definitely did better in the second half,” Hartrich said. “We’re still trying to work some things out before regionals. We’re working on it and we’re working together.”
The Warriors beat Marquette for the first time since 2013.
“It’s a good win,” Prazma said. “I know they had a couple of girls who were hurt. One of them sat out, the other one went out and played and gutted it out. They’re always tough and they always play us tough. We did some good things out there today. We moved the ball well, which is really tough on high grass. We’re a little more used to it because that’s what we play on. Sometimes our grass is high, so it makes it a little easier for us and harder for teams that play on turf all of the time.”