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Alton keeper Shane Bollini goes up to block a shot in the first half against Gibault on Tuesday at Gordon Moore Park.
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Alton sophomore Skylar Funk, right, prepares to kick the ball down field with Gibault senior Ethan Shields, left, in pursuit.
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Alton senior Carl Stradal goes up against Gibault junior Jake Rueter (11) and senior Ethan Shields (4) for a head ball.
ALTON — Flying high off a title at the McCluer Tournament, the Alton Redbirds welcomed Gibault — the 2013 Class 1A state soccer champions — to Gordon Moore Park Tuesday.
Unfortunately for the Birds, they had to settle for a 2-2 tie.
Gibault Catholic High School has an enrollment of less than 300, while Alton towers just under 2,000. Yet the size difference between the schools was not apparent when the Hawks took an early lead over the Redbirds Tuesday.
Gibault sophomore Ben Mueth was the first to strike when he delivered a shot that slipped past the hands of Redbird keeper Shane Bollini in the upper corner of the goal in the fourth minute of the first half.
The Hawks remained in front 1-0 until the waning seconds of the first half. Alton's Carl Stradal sank a shot with 20 seconds left to knot it at 1-1 entering the break. Gibault coaches disputed — to no avail — that time had run out on the half prior to the goal.
The second half began with an early go-ahead goal for the Redbirds by senior Micah Wrigley with just five and half minutes burned off the clock. Alton held the Hawks back until Gibault senior Ethan Shields was able to find the back of the goal to tie the game 2-2.
Aggressive play led to both teams garnering a yellow card in the second half, but the score would not change, giving 6-3-2 Alton and 3-4-2 Gibault their second tie each of the season.
"We have a really young team having lost 13 seniors last year, but we're working hard," Gibault head coach Matt Reeb said. "Our keeper (Trevor Davis) is only a sophomore and this is his first time playing that position; he has a lot of potential."
The difference in school size or record didn't affect how the two teams played.
"We're improving as a unit," Trevor Davis said. "We look at talent one school at a time, not record or enrollment."
The Redbirds head coach Jay Robertson was pleased with the performance of his team. Alton will take a big loss at the end of the season when they graduate 14 seniors from the varsity roster.
"Both teams really battled out there; we expected they would be a talented team," Robertson said. "We're knocking it around really good, but of course we would rather finish the game. Both of our teams expect success and we both played like it."
Experience as a team can be the difference in competition. The Redbird seniors are thrilled they've had many seasons together as teammates.
"Most of us have played together for a really long time," Wrigley said. "We can read each other well on the field. I have to admit I don't like settling with a tie; we'd rather walk off the field with the win."
Alton has the rest of the week off before traveling to Edwardsville to face the Tigers in Southwestern Conference play at 6:45 Tuesday at the District 7 Sports Complex.
Follow Diane Cox on Twitter @advantageDiane.