Althoff’s soccer team finds the field at Greenville to its liking.
The second-seeded Crusaders outscored third-seeded East Alton-Wood River 4-2 on Friday in the championship game of the Class 1A Greenville Regional. It was Althoff’s fourth straight win and second straight regional title in Greenville.
“It was a fast-paced game,” said Althoff junior Jimmy Monken, whose penalty kick midway through the second half put the finishing touches on the victory. “We tried to play our game, even with a (hard) field like this. We tried to pass to the midfield and play up.”
Althoff (9-11-2) will tackle Mater Dei (12-6-2) or Wesclin (11-8-1) in the semifinals of the Gibault Sectional at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Oerter Park in Columbia. Mater Dei will play Wesclin at 11 a.m. Saturday in the championship game of the Carlyle Regional.
Last season, the Crusaders reached the Gibault Sectional championship, where it lost to eventual state-tournament runner-up Anna-Jonesboro 2-1.
“We’re really young this year. We just have a lot of younger players,” Monken said. “We’ve had to work really hard for where we are right now. We have grown a lot since the beginning of the year and I think we’ve come a long way since last year. We just want to win a state championship for our school since we couldn’t put it away last year
“I think our team is ready to take on the sectional.”
The Crusaders appeared to be on their way to a rout against Wood River (12-10), as juniors Christian Garcia and Tyler Stone each scored a goal in the first 18 minutes, 18 seconds.
Garcia, who registered his first two goals of the season Tuesday when Althoff defeated Greenville 4-1 in the semifinals, got to a bouncing ball and scored past a charging Oilers goalie D.J. Redden to make it 1-0 at 6:54. Althoff never relinquished the lead.
Stone scored in front to make it 2-0, and after Wood River got within 2-1 on a penalty kick, Althoff regained its two-goal lead at 3-1 when sophomore Riley Sullivan scored in a scrum a few feet away from the goal line after Garcia popped a short pass into traffic.
The Oilers inched within 3-2 less than seven minutes into the second half, but Monken’s penalty kick after junior Dillon Birdsong was fouled in the box made it 4-2 at 59:20. Neither team had many chances in the final 19 minutes.
“To their credit, they kept the pressure on the whole game,” first-year Crusaders coach Skip Birdsong said of the Oilers. “We get up 2-0 and you’re starting to feel OK, then they come back and make it 2-1. Thankfully, we put another one in before halftime.
“A two-goal lead, you’re covered in case something crazy happens. But a one-goal lead, it only takes one, and they had enough power up top to be dangerous.”
Birdsong said Monken’s penalty kick was just what Althoff needed. It came after Stone played a free kick to Dillon Birdsong in front of the left post.
“Jimmy’s a good finisher,” Skip Birdsong said. “He stepped up and got the big penalty kick.”
Wood River coach Mike Lawson bemoaned the injuries that plagued his team in the second half of the season, but he was proud that the Oilers played Althoff tougher than they did in the championship game last year when the Crusaders won 3-0.
“I thought the first goal shouldn’t have happened, I thought the third goal shouldn’t have happened and I thought their fourth goal shouldn’t have happened,” Lawson said. “I’m not saying we’re the better team. But when you play a quality team, or a team with select-type players, you can’t give up three weaker goals. They have to earn them. Those aren’t the type of goals I would be happy giving up, that’s for sure.”