GODFREY — The Edwardsville Tigers are on a roll.
The Tigers defeated the Alton Redbirds 3-2 on Tuesday at Piasa Motor Fuels Field at AHS. It marked the 11th straight victory for EHS, which improved to 14-2-1 overall and 3-0-1 in the Southwestern Conference. Alton slipped to 10-4-2 and 0-3-1 in the SWC.
The Tigers were anxious to get back on the pitch Tuesday. They hadn't played a game since April 21 and hoped the long layoff didn't leave them rusty against an AHS team with a potent scoring punch.
“This was great especially after a long break,” Edwardsville junior Abby Crabtree said. Crabtree scored two goals and dished out an assist in the win. “We were kind of nervous yesterday at practice, not everyone was focused, but we were able to step up and finish it (today).”
The win wasn't without its drama. EHS watched its 2-0 advantage early in the second half fizzle into a 2-2 tie with 10 minutes to play, but a goal 30 seconds later off the foot of Ashlin West in the 71st minute put the Tigers in front for good.
Crabtree had an opportunity to shoot it on the post and go for a hat trick, but instead flipped in front to West who beat Alton goalie Michaela Lucas in point blank range.
“On the assist, we just knew we had to respond after they came back,” Crabtree said. “They did a great job coming back, but we had to respond and we did. Ashlin and I made a great connection there in the middle.”
Edwardsville coach Abby Comerford loved seeing the unselfish play from her team.
“(Crabtree) could have had that shot, but the ball was kind of bouncing and she made the right decision to find Ashlin, who was wide open so she could play it in,” Comerford said. “It shows that we all work together, this is a team, it's not just one person doing all the work.”
Overall the Tigers outshot the Redbirds 10-3 and garnered 5 corners to Alton's 3.
Winning games in general for the Birds hasn't been a problem, but when it comes to the SWC it's been a different story.
First-year head coach Jeff Hayes admitted Alton has to play better in league play, but knows it's not an easy task.
“This year we've been stressing that our conference games are more important than anything else on our schedule,” Hayes said. “We have to prove ourselves in conference, so it's great that we have a good record and I think we've earned that and competed in a lot of games, but until we get over the hump and start winning some conference games we're not earning anyone's respect.”
AHS got the first chance in the game Tuesday as sophomore Brianna Hatfield fired a free kick on goal that clanged off the right post in the 17th minute.
It was Edwardsville that climbed on the scoreboard first though. In the 20th minute Taylor Hansen booted a corner kick into a scrum in the box. West put a shot on goal, which Crabtree thought was in, but wasn't called. She took the rebound and hammered it home for the score to put the Tigers up 1-0. West was given an assist on the play.
“It went in on Ashlin's shot but they didn't call it and it bounced back out to me and I awkwardly hit it in,” Crabtree said.
That was the way it stayed heading into the break, but it took Edwardsville just five minutes to strike once the second half began. In the 45th minute Crabtree scored off of another melee in front of the net. Hansen was credited with the assist off of her corner kick.
The Tigers controlled the tempo of the game in the second half, keeping the ball in Alton's end. They continually had good chances, but Lucas made some nifty stops in goal to keep the Birds alive.
“In the first half we did a good job of pressuring throughout the midfield and their back third where (Lucas) didn't have too much to do, but in the second half she certainly kept us in the game,” Hayes said. “To her credit, rather than just letting the game slip away because she wasn't getting much action, in the second half she stepped up and made some big saves. She's really good on those lower balls.”
The Redbirds finally got on the scoreboard in the 48th minute. Hatfield sent a corner kick in front where Alton's Annie Evans leaped and headed a ball in to cut Edwardsville's lead to 2-1.
The Redbirds tallied their next goal in the 70th minute when senior Sydney Mossman made a long run and rifled a shot over the top of EHS goalie Regan Windau to knot it at 2-2. Katie Kercher was credited with the assist.
It seemed to swing the momentum in favor of Alton, but the Tigers answered just 30 seconds later with West's goal to take the lead for good and send the Birds packing empty handed.
“We got that goal back within a few seconds, so it was really nice to see,” said Comerford.
It was nice to see for EHS, but frustrating for the Redbirds. It's still a work in progress for a relatively young Alton team.
“I don't think age is an excuse, but I do remind myself that we play with a lot of younger players,” Hayes said. “We have eight freshmen and sophomore starters. It's not an excuse, but you have to take it for what it is and understand that we're still kind of growing together as a team.”
The Tigers return to action at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday against Class 2A powerhouse Rochester, while the Redbirds head to Granite City for another SWC showdown at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.