While his O’Fallon teammates are playing club soccer in the spring and summer, Joe Guithues is playing baseball.
But nobody doubted the senior goal keeper when the Panthers faced conference rival Belleville West in overtime of a class 3A regional semifinal Tuesday.
Guithues kept O’Fallon in the game through a scoreless regulation and two overtime periods. Then he made a big save in the penalty kick round to give the Panthers an advantage and eventual 1-0 victory.
“Joe is the rock of our team and deserves a moment like this,” said O’Fallon head coach Jason Turkington. “You look at him and think maybe he’s not as good because he doesn’t play club, but then you see the saves he makes in key moments. He never makes a mistake. He’s a lot better than people give him credit for.”
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O’Fallon (12-5-3) advances to the regional championship game against Quincy, a 4-1 winner over Belleville East in the evening’s first semifinal game.
West and O’Fallon matched goals through the first two rounds of penalty kicks before Guithues stopped Maroons’ senior Ryan Herling on a shot low and to his right. He came up from the save pumping his fist, knowing he just gave his shooters and advantage through the final two rounds of kicks.
“When your shooters don’t miss a shot top to bottom, it makes my job easier as a keeper,” Guithues said. “My coach is telling me ‘just stop one, just stop one,’ so I was just telling myself in my head to read it, react and get down to make the save.”
Preston Porter beat Belleville West goalie James Wiegers in the fourth round to clinch the victory. The Maroons season ends at 5-13-3. Nine of their losses were one-point games.
“It’s the third time this year we’ve lost to penalty kicks,” said West coach Rob Thornberry. “I think the guys were ready to go tonight. I was really proud of the way they played and their effort. They left it on the field, which is all you can ask. It’s hard to walk away from this, but I’m proud of the effort.”
The teams kept an exhausting tempo through regulation, but O’Fallon had the best opportunities to avoid overtime.
Early in the second half, senior Austin Wilkerson took a shot wide of the goal then had a follow up in traffic that hit the post at the West goalie’s left. Adam Hudder missed high with a header, Aris Cesa turned loose a rocket from the football field’s 20 yard line that sailed high and wide.
Wilkerson had a chance to win it for O’Fallon in the second overtime when he had a one-on-one with the West goalie from a hard angle. He put a shot on the far post, but Wiegers made a spectacular save diving to his right.
“Coaching 16 years, you see those kinds of games where you have opportunities but the ball just doesn’t go in,” Turkington said. “You just have to stay with it. We played well, but they defensively did a wonderful job.”
The regional championship game kicks off Saturday at 5 p.m. in the O’Fallon stadium. Quincy (13-5-2) was runner up in class 3A last season.
“Coach (Matt) Longo has been in Quincy 36 years, he runs the same system and always has talented players,” said Turkington. “We’ll take off tomorrow, work on some things Thursday, regroup and be back Saturday ready for a big game.”