A recent lineup change paid dividends for the Althoff boys soccer team.
Junior Stephen Waltrip, normally a defender, was moved to the midfield and Waltrip’s contributions were profound Tuesday as he scored two goals to lead the Crusaders to a 4-0 victory over Greenville in the semifinals of the Class 1A Greenville Regional.
“We moved him up for the Belleville East game (Thursday),” Althoff coach Joe Burchett said. “He has an offensive side to him that we were trying to utilize. He did very well that day and today, too, with a pair of goals. We’ll take advantage of him when we can.”
The Crusaders (9-10-3), seeded second in sub-sectional B, advanced to the championship game at 6 p.m. Friday against third-seeded East Alton-Wood River (16-4-1), which defeated fifth-seeded Metro-East Lutheran 3-2 in overtime in the other semifinal.
Never miss a local story.
Waltrip scored the only goal Althoff needed at 12 minutes, 4 seconds, getting to a loose ball in traffic and converting inside the left post after a corner kick by sophomore Jimmy Monken.
Waltrip said he is comfortable at his new position because he is familiar with the tendencies of fellow midfielder Monken and senior Justin Robinson.
“Me, Justin and Jimmy have been playing together for a couple of years now, and we just kind of click. It was working today,” Waltrip said. “We got that first goal early in the game and I knew we would have a good chance. We played them earlier in the season (Althoff won 3-0), and once we jumped on top of them earlier in the season, we beat them, too.”
Monken’s drive from 25 yards away caromed off the left post and settled into the netting to make it 2-0 at 16:40. The play was kept alive by Crusaders freshman Mitchell Kidd, whose perseverance prevented the Comets from clearing the ball.
The lead swelled to 3-0 at 36:43 when Robinson controlled the rebound of a shot by senior Tyler Wade and hammered in a shot from in front of the right post.
“We were trying to get that third one,” Burchett said. “You don’t want that 2-0 lead; you want three. Once we got the third one, it was pretty hard for the other team to come back.
“I thought we did really well. Lots of boys contributed today. I think having something on the line today (helped). Nobody wanted to let down the senior players. As soon as you lose, you’re done. Nobody wanted that. They want to continue. We were urgent and prepared.”
Waltrip iced the victory at 53:11, dribbling through four defenders and unleashing a low shot to the left of Greenville junior keeper Noah Matthews.
Senior Stephen Toenjes posted the shutout in goal for Althoff.
The Crusaders, despite on the verge of playing for a regional championship, have endured a difficult season on the injury front.
Senior Donovan Gagen suffered a season-ending calf early in the season. Senior defenders Will Dall and Evan Toennies and midfielder Wade also have missed time.
“We were able to put our two seniors backs in there that weren’t there not too long ago,” Burchett said. “That was a positive for us. It’s good to have those two boys back.”
Waltrip said the injuries have enabled the Crusaders to come together as a group.
“I think everyone’s just been working together, working hard every day,” Waltrip said. “It’s just starting to work now. I think we can do very well (in the postseason).”
Too much to handle
First-year Greenville coach Chance Vohlken said Althoff had too many weapons for the Comets (10-13) to contain. The Crusaders defense, meanwhile, smothered an attack that included junior Jordan Leihser and senior Matthew James.
“We played them earlier in the season and thought we could do some things differently today,” he said. “We thought we could kind of stymie that attack a little bit and maybe take advantage of some opportunities we knew we would get.
“We got the opportunties we needed; we just didn’t take advantage. A team the quality that Althoff has is hard to hold off. You could see that when they have confidence, they know what to do with it. Monken is a class player ... and No. 14 (Robinson) and No. 9 (Waltrip) in the middle, they’re two other great players that command that midfield.”