GRANITE CITY — The Granite City Warriors advanced past the first round of the Class 3A Granite City Regional after a long contest against the Belleville West Maroons on Wednesday afternoon.
The Warriors defeated the Maroons 3-2 after regulation, two overtimes and penalty kick play. In the first 10 penalty kicks, each team missed one kick. On the 11th penalty kick, Granite City’s Abigail Reeves shot found the back of the net while West’s Melanie Kulig’s kick failed to do so. Kulig's ball hit the crossbar, but didn’t go in. This gave the Warriors the final goal and the win.
“Personally, I hate penalty kicks,” Granite City goalkeeper Neeley Wiedhardt said. “Either you go the right way or you don’t. This is a big win for us. They beat us 3-0 last time.”
Warriors' coach Kenny Prazma expressed a similar sentiment on penalty kicks.
“I’m one of the few people that despises penalty kicks,” he said. “I think it’s a tough way to win, it takes all of the talent out of it. Both teams were obviously tired, we can’t play all night. We were fortunate to get a save, Neeley (Wiedhardt) makes a save there at the end. I hate to be the person that misses the goal, they’re kids.”
Granite City will face Edwardsville, who defeated Quincy 3-1 in the first round of the regional on Wednesday, at 6 p.m. Friday in the championship game.
The Warriors (9-6-4) lost to Belleville West on April 12 in a regular season Southwestern Conference contest. The Maroons finished the season with a 10-9-1 record after Wednesday's heartbreaking loss.
The contest featured momentum swings. The Warriors established a 2-0 lead in the first period behind goals from junior forwards Grace Neidhardt and Lexi Grote.
Neidhardt scored early, with 23:37 left to play in the first half, and Grote scored with 5:10 remaining until the break. However, the Maroon’s Taylor Mathenia scored just a few minutes later to make the score 2-1 Warriors entering the half.
“They definitely had the better in the first 10 minutes of the game,” Belleville West coach Jason Mathenia said. “But once we let the game calm down, we started playing and figuring out how we were going to be dangerous. I felt we had some opportunities, but unfortunately we missed a few breakaways to even the game up early. Even in the second half, we missed a couple inside the six. It’s unfortunate for our girls because they gave every ounce of effort they could.”
Prazma felt his team played well in the first half.
“We got some breaks,” he said. “Lexi (Grote) got away. We got the ball in the middle, we probably didn’t get the ball in the middle enough throughout the whole game. When they do that and they give us some room, Lexi and Grace (Neidhardt) are pretty dangerous. We were fortunate to get two up, but 2-0 is the worst score in soccer. We let Taylor (Braunagel) roam a bit and our defense got a little lax. We let them get back in the game unfortunately.”
Granite City put a few shots on goal in the first 20-minutes of the second half, but Belleville West goalkeeper Bailey Redden came up with a save each time. The Maroons' Addison Hanusek scored on a free kick with 20:37 left to play in the contest to tie the game up at two goals.
Belleville West did pressure the Warriors with two-shots on goal in the final 20 minutes, but Wiehardt, who finished the contest with six saves, provided a quality line of defense.