GRANITE CITY — The Granite City Warriors are quite fond of Gene Baker Field.
Storms early in the week opened the door to move the Class 3A Granite City Regional to a local turf field to get games in, but the Warriors decided to wait and play on their grass. The result Friday was a second straight regional championship for the Warriors.
GCHS defeated Edwardsville 2-1 on penalty kicks to secure the crown. It was the Warriors' second PK-victory in the regional, after beating Belleville West that way on Wednesday.
Granite City improved to 10-6-4 with the win and advances to the Normal Community Sectional semifinals at 7 p.m. Tuesday in O'Fallon. The Warriors will face the winner between Alton and Collinsville, which will be determined Saturday in the Collinsville Regional finals.
“Edwardsville actually called the Wednesday before the regional and offered their field in case the rain came and the guys from here at the school did an awesome job of getting the field ready,” GCHS head coach Kenny Prazma said. “It probably looks better than it has in years. The home field advantage, we were going to do whatever we could to keep it.”
GCHS goalie Neeley Wiehardt, who stopped the last three EHS PK attempts, added, “We refused (to move it). We wanted to get games here on our field and honestly we have the advantage because we're so used to grass and they're so used to turf.”
The Warriors outscored the Tigers 3-1 on PKs. Lexi Grote, Grace Neidhardt and Shelby Winn supplied the PKs for Granite City. It was Winn's which sealed the deal.
Ashlin West scored the lone EHS PK in four rounds.
“It's definitely really nerve-racking taking PKs for a regional championship, but to know I hit it right where I needed to was definitely rewarding,” said Winn, a senior midfielder. “You've got to put the nerves aside and our crowd is obviously really loud every time anything happens. You've got to tune everything out and just focus on what you've got to do.”
Edwardsville made it interesting, nullifying Granite City's 1-0 lead in the 79th minute of regulation. With just 1:59 left in the game, Allysiah Belt buried a shot near the left post to tie the game 1-1. Jane Ann Crabtree supplied the assist off of a free kick near midfield.
“We were able to get that late goal to push it to OT and we had a couple chances in OT and they had a chance or two,” EHS coach Abby Comerford said. “The girls played really well tonight.”
Edwardsville wrapped up the season at 18-3-1 and ranked No. 2 in the state. The loss snapped a 15-game winning streak for the Tigers.
Comerford gave credit to the Warriors for their game plan and her girls for their tenacious effort.
“Granite is a great team,” she said. “They were playing four in the back and almost five in the middle, so it was just a case where we needed to fine tune a little more. Overall the girls played hard the entire game, so I'm definitely proud of this group.”
Granite City was able to beef up on defense due to an early goal from Neidhardt. She scored in the 23rd minute on an assist from Megan Jones. Neidhardt accepted the pass from Jones, dribbled in and blasted it high into the net.
The goal allowed Prazma to eat up clock by attempting to keep the ball away from the potent EHS scoring punch.
“After playing them only a week and a half ago we knew what they were going to do,” Prazma said. “We knew they'd come to the ball very well. They are great in the air. Every one of them is great in the air. We don't have 10 or 11 girls that can win balls in the air like that, so basically we've got to do whatever we can to pick up balls and get them to our forwards' feet. Grace and Lexi are by far our two most dangerous players on the field. Sometimes that didn't work out, but at least we took up a lot of time. Unfortunately we did give up the goal with two minutes left and the girls were a little down, but we did a lot of talking to them. We knew Edwardsville was going to come out after scoring a goal with two minutes left so we tried to get them back in the game.”
Wiehardt said the Warriors had to have a short memory heading into OT after giving up the late goal, but they refocused quickly.
“It was tough, but our coaches just told us to keep our heads up and we did,” Wiehardt said. “I was really ticked at myself that I (let the goal in). I was so mad, but we've really come together as a team over these last couple of games. I'm really proud of us on how we've come together.”
It was the eighth regional title in program history and the second straight for Granite City. Now the goal is to try and keep the season going. That opportunity will come on Tuesday.
“Since I'm a senior it's a great way to end my career here, but we're going to keep going,” Winn said.