Alton's Jada Green goes up for a kill against the Tigers in Edwardsville on Thursday.
Rachel Cauley of the Redbirds digs a ball on Thursday in Edwardsville.
Alton's Savannah Fisher makes a pass against the Tigers on Thursday at EHS.
EDWARDSVILLE — The Alton Redbirds weren't quite up to the task on Thursday at Lucco-Jackson Gymnasium in Edwardsville.
After leading the host Tigers for much of the first game, Alton ultimately lost the game and the match 25-23, 25-16. The loss was the third straight for the Redbirds, who fell to Mater Dei, then O'Fallon and now EHS. Belleville West is looming on the schedule for the final regular season game on Oct. 23 at AHS.
With the loss, Alton is now 25-6-1 and 3-3 in the Southwestern Conference on the season, while Edwardsville improved to 16-11 and 6-0.
AHS head coach Stacey Ferguson knew the stretch run was going to be taxing with some top tier volleyball programs awaiting on the docket, but she believes the Redbirds are doing fine.
“I've been prepping them all season long, telling them it does get harder,” Ferguson said. “We can't just sit back and enjoy the ride, we have to keep pushing. You get your little slumps in the season, I think every team does that and we battled back, but we just need to understand that every point we play hard whether we get the point or not, so we're getting better for the next point and getting better for the next night. I was pleased to see they were working hard tonight. I wasn't pleased with the effort against O'Fallon Tuesday night.”
Game 1 saw the Redbirds and Tigers in a 2-2 tie early, but an EHS service error handed Alton a 3-2 lead. AHS wouldn't relinquish that lead until the Tigers grabbed a 22-21 lead late in the game.
Kills from Megan Paulda and Rachel Cauley and a block by the duo helped lead the way through the middle of the game.
But after calling a timeout late in the game, Edwardsville seemed rejuvenated. Alton was able to tie it at 22-22 and after giving it back to the Tigers on a service error, tied it at 23-23 on a kill by Cauley, but a pair of kills by Edwardsville closed it out.
Stealing the momentum out from under the Redbirds seemed to spark the Tigers, too.
“That was key because they had a lot of energy coming into the game and a lot of energy through the first part of (Game 1),” EHS head coach Jami Parker said. “It kind of changed once we got that first game under our belt.”
Alton tried to keep pace with the Tigers in Game 2 and did pretty good early on. A kill by Savannah Fisher saw the Birds knot it at 7-7 and later an ace by Paulda made it 11-11 and a kill from Kailin Haug tied it at 13-13. Unfortunately, service errors by Alton shifted the momentum, letting the Tigers grab 12-11 and 14-13 leads.
EHS never looked back after it got it to 14-13, outscoring the Redbirds 11-3 down the stretch. Edwardsville controlled the tempo at the net. Freshman Rachel Pranger provided three of her match-high nine kills in the late run for EHS.
“We made a lot of unforced errors in the first game, but in the second game we settled down and were taking much better swings,” Parker said.
Ferguson was just happy to see a better effort from the Redbirds than the one she thought they offered in Tuesday's loss to O'Fallon.
“I told the girls the thing we can take away is we played a lot better than we did Tuesday night, and actually better than we've played in awhile honestly,” Ferguson said.
Thursday's match was also a precursor to the upcoming Class 4A Edwardsville Regional. Seeds were posted recently on ihsa.org with Alton earning a No. 3 seed and the Tigers getting the No. 4 seed. The rest of the regional includes: No. 1 seed Quincy, No. 2 Springfield and No. 5 Granite City.
EHS plays host to GCHS at 6 p.m. on Oct. 27. The Redbirds first match in the regional pits them against Springfield at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 28 at EHS.
“People had better records than us,” Parker said of the regional seedings. “You've got to play ball and apparently our record spoke for itself. We have a young team and we started out slow and it effected our seed. You've got to play ball.”
Alton was led by Haug with five kills on Thursday, while Paulda, Cauley and Jada Green chipped in with three apiece.