BELLEVILLE — For the second time in three games, Belleville West senior forward Howard Thomas literally used his head to help the Maroons win a soccer game.
Thomas scored on a head ball just 4 minutes, 47 seconds into the game and the Maroons' defense made it stand up as West edged Springfield 1-0 on Saturday in a lightening-shortened title game of the Belleville East Invitational.
Less than two minutes after West goalie Nate Petrekovich robbed Senators midfielder Zephen Merreighn with a diving save off a free kick from point-blank range, the Maroons capitalized off their own dead-ball situation.
Junior defender Matt Klostermann fired a perfect throw-in from the right corner to in front of the net, where the athletic Thomas was in perfect position. Thomas calmly headed the ball past sprawling Senators goalie Eli Browner and into the net for what turned out to be the only goal of the night.
"It was a great throw-in and actually I was surprised that he (Klostermann) was able to get all the way to the far post,'' Thomas said. "Once he got it there, he knows that I know what do and I headed it in. My first goal came in our opener of the season, but this is my first goal in a big-time situation. It felt good.''
West (3-0) took the lead into halftime. But three minutes before the second half was to begin, lightning caused play to be stopped as officials ordered everyone off the field.
They never returned. Some 35 minutes later, and with lightning becoming more frequent, officials and coaches made the decision to call the game, giving the Maroons their first Belleville East Invitational championship in the four-year coaching tenure of Rob Thornberry.
Down by a goal, Springfield was never able to mount much of an offensive attack against a quick Maroons' defense. The Senators (3-1) only had two shots on goal in the match.
"It was a great defensive effort,'' Thornberry said. "We knew that Springfield High's goalie was amazing and that ball in the box he was going to own. We were able to capitalize on that one opportunity and it was enough.
"Nate Petrekovich was amazing in our last game and he was amazing again tonight. This is a big win for our kids and our program. We're off to a good start and now we'll go back to work and get ready for Collinsville on Tuesday night.''
West nearly made it 2-0 midway through the first half, but Hunter Siebers shot from 25 yards out sailed over the crossbar.