Considering how things have gone recently between Althoff’s and Mater Dei’s soccer teams, one goal might be enough when they meet in the semifinals of the Class 1A Gibault Sectional at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Oerter Park in Columbia.
The teams’ last three games have been 0-0 in regulation. Two wound up in a tie. In the other, Althoff advanced 1-0 in penalty kicks in the sectional semifinals last season at Oerter Park. The teams have played 280 minutes without a goal in the flow of play.
“The first time we played Althoff, it got pretty chippy both ways,” Mater Dei coach James Arnold said of the scoreless battle in two overtimes Sept. 24 in Breese. “Both sets of fans were getting into it with each other. I think that’s just kind of the rivalry thing going on right now.
“They call the football game (between Althoff and Mater Dei) ‘The Holy Grail.’ But that’s been pretty lopsided. These last three games against Althoff have been 0-0 games.”
Althoff (9-11-2) reached the sectional Friday with a 4-2 victory over Wood River in the championship game of the Greenville Regional. Mater Dei (13-6-2) outscored Wesclin 4-1 on Saturday in the title game of the Carlyle Regional.
“They’re obviously a very good team,” Birdsong said. “Scoring goals is something we’ve had trouble with throughout the season, so that’s going to be the first and foremost issue we’re going to have. And we have to make sure we play good defense as well. We know we’re going to have to be on our ‘A’ game to have (a good) result against them.”
The Althoff-Mater Dei winner will meet Gibault (12-7-1) or Central (14-5-1) in the championship game at 6 p.m. Friday. Gibault and Central meet in the other semifinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The teams did not play one another in the regular season.
Arnold anticipates another struggles with the Crusaders.
“Althoff’s going to give us some problems,” Arnold said. “They’ve got some goal-scorers on the team, they’ve got some kids with speed and they’ve got (Jimmy) Monken. He’s going to be difficult.”
Junior Christian Garcia had two goals and juniors Monken and Tyler Stone had one apiece for the Crusaders in their win over Wood River. Monken’s goal was a penalty kick.
Birdsong likes the way his team is playing, but the Crusaders still are battling injuries to key players, including senior and leading goal-scorer Stephen Waltrip (nine goals). Monken, who has seven goals, isn’t at 100 percent, either.
“We’re a little banged up, as we have been for the second half of the season, with a few guys that are still limping around, guys that we need for sure,” Birdsong said. “We need to get healthy first.
“(But) this group of kids plays as a team. They truly care about the result more than they do their own stats or any of that kind of thing. Any time you have a group of kids like that, you’ve got a chance to go far.”
Garcia didn’t score a goal in the regular season, but had three in the two regional games.
“Christian’s a good player,” Birdsong said. “He’s had some injuries off and on and he’s getting healthy at the right time.”
The Knights will be without senior back Alex Loepker, who has 12 goals and four assists. Loepker was recovering from an ankle injury and was expected to play Saturday against Wesclin, but he suffered a broken femur in practice Friday.
“He’s been out for two weeks,” Arnold said. “Then his first day back in practice, he took one bad step and snapped his femur. Absolutely incredible. It’s been such a weird past 24 hours. I’m still in shock that it happened. This kid was our leader. He was everything for us.
“Unfortunately, he was a senior and was getting some college looks. He just took a bad step. No contact. He landed funny on the ground. He stayed standing, but you instantly knew something was wrong. I thought it was a hip flexor, but it was much worse.”
Junior Drew Toennies has been picking up the slack. Toennies scored two goals against Wesclin and leads the Knights with 13. Sophomore Max Harad also had two goals in the regional final.
Hawks hold on
Gibault, which won the Class 1A state tournament in 2013, walked a tight-wire Saturday in its 2-1 victory over Freeburg in the championship game of the Freeburg Regional. The Hawks had defeated the Midgets 9-0 in the regular season.
Seniors Dalton Scace and Ben Mueth put the Hawks ahead 2-0 in the second half, but Freeburg got within 2-1 on a goal by senior Shawn Morrison and was dangerous down the stretch before the clock expired.
“Things get tough in the playoffs,” Gibault coach Matt Reeb said. “Credit to them. They played well. They were hungry on their home field, regional championship. It was tough.”
Mueth (19 goals) and Scace (10 goals) are the Hawks’ leading scorers.
Central defeated Mount Carmel 8-1 on Saturday to win the Massac County Regional in Metropolis. The Cougars outscored Mount Carmel 7-0 in the second half.
Junior Hunter Kruep led the barrage with a hat trick, giving him 14 goals this season. The Cougars’ top goal-scorer is senior Filipe Martins with 15. Another senior, Jensen Lake, has 13 goals and 13 assists. Senior Coty Boruff has eight goals.
Cougars coach Keith Patterson said his team has no margin for error against Gibault.
“They’re an awesome team,” Patterson said. “Gibault’s not going to give us many scoring opportunities. We’re going to have to play good defense and the opportunities they do give us, we’re going to have to make them count. We’ve got to capitalize.”