GODFREY — It's the stretch of the season that always seems to give the Alton Redbirds fits — the home stretch.
Alton fumbled through its seventh straight loss on Thursday night at home, losing to visiting Edwardsville, 25-12, 25-19. AHS sank to 21-11-1 overall with the loss and 2-4 in the Southwestern Conference. The Tigers elevated to 20-7 and 6-0 with the victory.
The losses for Alton have come at the hands of some upper-echelon competition, Mater Dei, O'Fallon, EHS and an 0-4 spurt in the Highland Tournament.
“(The home stretch) is always tough every year,” Redbird head coach Stacey Ferguson said. “This one unfortunately has not been as good as I expected, or what I feel like we could have done.”
On the other side Edwardsville is hitting its stride. They earned at least a share of the SWC on Thursday with only Belleville Wet remaining on the conference slate.
“That was one of the girls first goals, to get the conference title back,” EHS head coach Jami Parker said. “It's good for them but honestly (share) didn't even come out of their mouth tonight. I don't think they want to share. They want the title outright and they're going to come out and fight for it next week.”
Game 1 went by in a flurry with the Tigers dominating much of the way.
Alton had a run in Game 2, dwindling a 19-9 deficit to 19-14 with a 5-0 spurt. An ace by Savannah Fisher highlighted the series for the Redbirds, along with some hitting errors by EHS.
A kill by Jada Green got Alton to 22-18 and it got as close as 22-19 before the Tigers reeled off three consecutive points to close it out. Annie Ellis and Kate Martin supplied kills for the final two points.
“I feel like whether we come out on top in the end I just expect to see us competing better than we are competing,” Ferguson said. “With O'Fallon and Edwardsville and even this past weekend in the Highland Tournament, I don't think we've gone out there competing. We're not in sync like we need to be, we're not communicating like we need to and that's keeping us from being able to push and stay with these teams.”
On the other side Parker believes the Tigers are gaining momentum heading into the playoffs. Both Alton and Edwardsville will be a part of the Class 4A Granite City Regional beginning Monday, Oct. 26.
“We were up in the Mizuno Tournament last weekend and saw some really good teams and we finish our schedule on a big note with the last couple of weeks,” Parker said. “The girls will be ready by the time the playoffs come around.”
Ferguson is trying to decipher the formula to get to the top of the SWC heap. Alton set a school record with 25 wins last season and have secured 20-plus wins in three of the last four seasons, but when it comes to the home stretch of conference play the Redbirds are always on the outside looking in.
“It's what I've been thinking about the last few years,” Ferguson said. “I feel like the bottom half of our season is so heavy with these loaded teams and it's one after another. We don't even get a breather. We get one or two practices to fix things and we're back at it again and it does get a little depleting when we have to do that. I think if we could spread it out a little more and get some competition earlier in the season, we've tried, we added Columbia, and I've looked at maybe dropping one of our tournaments and getting in another tournament.
“I just think we get to a point where we expect to win because we've done it for the first half of the season.”
Green led the Redbirds in kills with five on Thursday. She now has 207 on the season, 20 kills away from the single-season mark owned by 2008 AHS grad Andrea McPike. Green set the all-time kills mark during the Highland Tournament, surpassing McPike for that honor.
“She’s been great,” Ferguson said of Green. “I kind of wish, these last few matches, we could have used her some more not only for her benefit, but our benefit as well.”
Other statistical contributors for the birds were Annie Evans with three kills, Sydney Schmidt with nine assists, Fisher with eight digs, Calista Cox with seven digs and Kassidy Funke with four service points.
Edwardsville was guided by Annie Ellis and Rachel Pranger with nine kills apiece, Rachel Verdun with 23 assists and eight service points, Megan Woll with 10 digs and Sydney Wright with three blocks.
Alton now sits idle until 5:30 p.m. Oct. 22 when it heads to Belleville West. The Tigers are back in action at 6:15 p.m. Monday at Mater Dei.