EDWARDSVILLE — Three weeks ago, the Granite City Warriors were 4-8-1.
After beating the Alton Redbirds 2-1 in a Class 3A Edwardsville Regional semifinal match on Tuesday, the Warriors have clinched a winning season. And they're a win away from clinching a regional championship.
Granite City improved to 10-8-2 with its second victory over Alton in 12 days. The Warriors beat the Redbirds 1-0 in a Southwestern Conference match on May 7 at Gordon Moore Park.
"It is great," Granite City senior defender Leann Smith said. "It's like nothing else. They were coming at us and they were ready for us. So we fought back and we were ready."
The Warriors will play the Quincy Blue Devils at 6 p.m. Friday in the regional championship match. Quincy (8-10-4) upset top-seeded Edwardsville 3-2 in the other regional semifinal on Tuesday.
"I think that we're good enough that if we come out and play our game, I think we'll be fine," Granite City coach Kenny Prazma said. "The girls have to stay with the game plan as far as what we've done all year long. We played some great games and lost some heartbreakers and I think the girls can hold their own against anybody, so we're looking forward to the game against Quincy. We're looking forward to hopefully winning the regional championship."
Granite City is 6-0-1 in its last seven matches, including a Tournament of Champions title two weeks ago at Burlington, Iowa. The Warriors haven't lost since April 28, when they fell 2-1 to Edwardsville at home.
The Warriors played their first match since May 9, when they tied Alton Marquette 1-1 at home.
"We've been putting them through good workouts in practice, so they were ready to play," Prazma said. "They've been ready for the last few days. We gave them a couple of days off after having some injuries towards the end of the season. We've got everybody back healthy and they came out to play."
Alton finished its season at 4-12-1. The Redbirds were 0-6-1 in their final seven matches.
"The record doesn't really depict these kids and this team," Alton coach Laura Ridolfi said. "We play in a tough conference, but outside of that, all of the games we played in except three were one-goal games. They were in every game and they fought and they competed. I don't think their record describes the capabilities of this team because they are a good group."
Senior Ashleigh Briggs scored her 10th goal of the season with just six minutes into the match to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead on Tuesday.
"It's always big just like we did whenever we played them in the first time at Gordon Moore," Prazma said. "We got an early goal and it kind of set the tone for the game."
Sophomore Grace Neidhardt, who scored the lone goal in the Warriors' last meeting with Alton, extended Granite City's lead to 2-0 with her 11th goal of the season.
Freshman Katie Kercher scored the Redbirds' lone goal with 6:46 remaining in the match. It was Kercher's first goal of the season.
Kercher had a chance to tie the match in the closing minutes, but her header sailed out of bounds.
"Credit to the girls because they fought back late and they made a push," Ridolfi said. "Had we found our first goal a little bit earlier, it might have been a little bit different if we had a little bit more time. But it's unfortunate to give away the early goals because we're always trying to dig ourselves out of a hole."
The Warriors beat Alton in the regional semifinals for the second straight year. Granite City beat the Redbirds 3-0 last year at home.
"We went into the game pretty confident that the girls were ready to play," Prazma said. "We were confident that we would come out with the win. We've got two goals up and they had to press and they did. They got one back and it kind of jumped their aspirations of at least getting a tie and maybe going into penalty kicks or getting one in overtime. But the girls held off and they played well and they gave us 80 minutes, so that's all we can ask."
Eight Alton seniors — Sarah Fischer, Lauren Forsythe, Kirstin Funk, Lexi Green, Haley Haar, Sofia Macias, goalkeeper Brittany Storey and Monica Wickenhauser — played their final high school match on Tuesday.
With Tuesday's win, 11 Granite City seniors — including Smith — will continue their high school soccer careers for at least another match.
"I'm excited because it's our last day of school today, so I'm glad it wasn't our last game today," Smith said. "I hope we make it farther than just Friday."