ALTON — The Marquette Catholic Explorers struck early and hung on to top crosstown rival Alton 1-0 Wednesday on a wet, dreary evening at Gordon Moore Park.
It was the second win over the Redbirds in a week for the Explorers, who also bested their rival 2-1 on March 18 during the Metro Cup in Columbia.
Marquette raised its record to 3-1 with the win, while the tough luck Birds sank to 1-5. It marked the fourth one-goal loss of the season for Alton.
Lauren Schmickley, who scored the lone goal of the game, admitted the game with the Redbirds is circled on the calendar every year and to beat them twice already is a nice notch in the belt.
“Every year, because they're our rival in every sport,” Schmickley said. “It's just fun to play them. They brought their A game (tonight).”
Both Alton coach Laura Ridolfi and Marquette coach Steve Mitchell are happy to have the games between their teams out of the way. The players put a lot of stock into it and both coaches believe it will be a relief to now be able to focus on the remainder of the season.
“It's nice to have it out of the way because having been here before kids build it up more than it needs to be,” Ridolfi said. “I can tell them as many times as I want, 'Hey, guys it's just another game.' But they don't see it that way. I've been there. It's never just a game when you play Marquette and that's part of what makes it nice, but it's nice to move on and start preparing for conference and hopefully get some wins there.”
Mitchell added, “We changed it off the schedule from late to early because the kids play each other so hard that injuries start to come into play. We've played them twice already, so it's over til next year and they'll come at us again next year. They beat us once last year. We split with them last year, but this year we were fortunate to win both.”
Schmickley's goal came in the sixth minute of the game. After being fouled on the sideline and told to play on by the center referee, Elissa Senno flicked a pass to Kate Sanfilippo who found a streaking Schmickley. Schmickley got behind the Alton defense and raced toward the goal, blistering a shot past Redbird goalie Brittany Storey into the net.
“Kate Sanfilippo sent me the ball and I just ran on and flew by the defender and just finished it,” Schmickley said.
Ridolfi said it was just a matter of Alton getting out of position and allowing the speedy Schmickley get behind the defense.
“Their front players are pacey and our back line didn't drop and she was able to get in behind and that was a foot race we weren't going to win,” Ridolfi said.
But after the goal the Redbirds seemed to settle in, while the Explorers seemed to have a slight letdown. Schmickley thought it was a case of becoming relaxed after the goal.
“After the goal we kind of let down because we were winning,” Schmickley said. “It's just kind of natural because we were winning.”
Mitchell thought the sloppy conditions played a factor, maybe some nagging injuries and the fact that Alton simply played better the rest of the way.
“We did everything in the first 20, 30 minutes we trained to do, got the ball on a line, we talked, we pressed the corners, we did all of that and then it was like we ran out of gas,” Mitchell said. “I don't know if the weather played a part, I've got a couple players that are semi-injured and have been sitting all week. That might have played a little factor, but they basically outplayed us the last 40, 50 minutes. We just survived, but that's soccer. Sometimes you can dominate a whole game and lose and sometimes you can't and win. Sometimes funny things happen.”
AHS, which outshot Marquette 12-5 in the game, really poured the pressure on in the final 10 minutes of the first half.
In the 37th minute, Annie Evans nearly put the Birds on the board when she knocked a header on goal off of Brianna Hatfield's corner kick. Evans had a great look, but freshman goalie for the Explorers, Lauren Fischer, made a tremendous hand save to deny her.
In the 39th minute Sydney Schmitt of the Redbirds had another great attempt, but banged a shot off the post, sending Alton into the break trailing 1-0.
Mitchell praised Fischer, who corralled 11 saves overall in the game.
“(Fischer) is an elite player and I'm fortunate enough I have two freshmen goalkeepers (Fischer and Sonorah Eldred) and they battle each other every day,” Mitchell said. “One game I'll start one and the other I'll start the other, so they give me their best effort when they go in there because they know I'll pull them at any given time because they are so equal.”
AHS came out of the break keeping the pressure on the Explorers. As the rain continued to fall, Alton continued to stay in Marquette's end. Hatfield got a good look in the 48th minute, but the shot sailed wide right.
Ridolfi had no complaints of the effort from the Redbirds, but in the end it just wasn't enough to overcome the early strike of the Explorers.
“Outside of the results of the game, it's really hard to be disappointed with it,” she said. “It's the best game they've played all season. We might have started a little slow and gave up a goal early, but other than that I believe we created a lot of goal scoring opportunities and credit to (Fischer) she made a couple big time saves at the end of the first half. We hit a post and one of those goes in and the game is different, but I'm pretty proud of the kids and how they played. It's hard to complain because we had the majority of the balls and had a majority of the opportunities but could never find a goal.”
Now it's time to return to the chalkboard for the Birds, who with those four one-goal losses could start to descend into a funk, but Ridolfi doesn't see that. On the other side the Explorers have been on the winning end of three one-goal games.
“We lost three games in the last five minutes by a goal and the only team we really lost to was Triad early and otherwise we've been in every game,” said Ridolfi. “I can't not give the kids credit, they fight and they compete. It's early still and we're looking to build. I always tell them, 'Hey, I believe in you guys, it's right there and it just takes time.'”