BELLEVILLE — Althoff was out to prove Tuesday that its first meeting against Belleville West had no bearing on the second.
Sophomore Donovan Gagen's first-half penalty kick was all the Crusaders needed in a 1-0 victory over the host Maroons, who defeated Althoff 3-0 on Aug. 31 in the Belleville East Invitational at the Family Sportsplex.
Gagen scored inside the right post at 21 minutes, 17 seconds, after junior Nick Harper was taken down inside the box. It was Gagen's 17th goal of the season, matching his total from last year.
"The first time we played them, we had four games in seven days, and that just wears a team down," Gagen said. "Our subs were dead; we were all dead. This time, everybody was fresh. We had all our starters back and we played as a team. That's really good."
The win improved Althoff's record to 6-3-1 and gave first-year coach Joe Burchett a taste of what the city rivalry is all about.
"It was very emotional," said Burchett, a 1985 graduate of Collinsville High. "We made sure we pressured high, pressured in the middle and pressured in the back. We weren't going to give them the room we gave them (the first time).
"I had a full bench tonight. Last time we played them, it was 100 degrees and I had one or two subs. It felt like we were hanging on. So I told the boys, 'Let's go out and pressure for the 80 minutes.' We're the little school, they're the big school.' If we can knock off a big guy, it feels pretty darn good."
West (6-4) played with plenty of passion, but couldn't find the back of the net despite numerous second-half opportunities.
"That's the thing," Maroons coach Rob Thornberry said. "We had five, six opportunities that were point-blank, one-v-one vs. the goalie, and we just didn't bury it. ... We can't make excuses. We had opportunities; we just didn't capitalize."
Both goalies, Althoff senior Kody Turner and West junior Nate Petrekovich, played well in a wide-open second half that saw plenty of end-to-end action.
But Gagen's goal was the difference. He ripped a shot to the left of Petrekovich and the Crusaders protected the slim margin.
"It's a lot of pressure," he said. "I just find a corner, pick it and shoot --and hope it goes in. I just go to that spot, usually. You've got to mix it up or (teams) will know."
Gagen said Althoff had to beat West for its nine seniors.
"For our seniors, it's the last time playing them," he said. "We've got to beat them. It's a big game, too, a Belleville rivalry. We beat them and now all the big teams are going, 'Whoa. This small school's got some power behind it.'"
The Maroons came close to tying the game several times in the second half, just as Althoff narrowly missed building on its lead.
A shot by West's Brent Lehr was cleared off the line by senior Jacob Haas in the 41st minute. Gagen had a step on two defenders but shot wide right in the 48th minute, and his header went outside the right post in the 55th minute.
Maroons senior Howard Thomas' volley was wide left off a corner kick from the far side of the field by junior Matt Klosterman in the 59th minute. Two minutes later, Turner robbed West senior Ian Mayr in front of the line.
Turner took away a possible goal by Thomas three minutes later with another strong save. In the 65th minute, Petrekovich came off his line to defend Gagen, who slipped around him and had a one-on-one chance against West sophomore defender Nick Harry.
Harry slowed the shot with his legs and Petrekovich scurried back and covered the ball before it crossed the line.
"Their guy is Gagen, and our defense handled him," Thornberry said. "He did get a penalty kick and he converted the PK. But in the run of play, we stopped him."
Mayr was playing his first game of the season because of a broken wrist. Mayr received two yellow cards --equal to a red card --and was disqualified, meaning he also will have to sit out West's game Thursday at Gibault.
"It's strange that he got the red, but at the same time, it's great to have him back," Thornberry said. "He showed a lot of leadership and it helped our midfield tremendously to have him back."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.