The sound of a ball clanking off the metal that surrounds the goal is often the sweetest sound in the world to a soccer goalie.
Three times in Friday night’s championship match of the Granite City Class 3A Regional, that sound rang in the ears of Collinsville senior netminder Brett Niedzwiecki, and boy, was it ever music to his ears.
Twice during the second half of the game, Edwardsville clanked shots off the left post.
It occurred again during penalty kicks when the Tigers’ Michael Picchiotti hit the crossbar.
One Niedzwiecki save later on a shot by Alec Mills, and the Kahoks were 2-1 winners and a regional champion on a game played on a muddy field at Granite City High School.
“Three times, I believe. That is crazy,” said Niedzwiecki, an all-state selection. “I was happy to get a little love (from the crossbar) on the one (penalty kick), but still I was pretty confident. The second one (penalty-kill save) I just picked my side and went full for it.”
The regional title is the first for the Kahoks since 2008 and their first with Clay Smith as their coach.
“It seemed like the soccer gods have been on our side a little bit lately,” said Smith, whose team has won four straight. “We’ve run into some bad luck this season and tonight we finally got some good luck.
“The two balls off the post. That’s just soccer and that’s the way it goes. We’ll take it.”
With the win, Collinsville (11-7-2) advances to the Peoria Notre Dame Sectional, where it will play the O’Fallon Regional champion at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Belleville West. Quincy (12-5-2) and the Panthers (12-5-3) will play for a regional title at 5 p.m. Saturday in O’Fallon.
The loss was just the second of the season for Edwardsville (14-2-5) and marked the first time since 2011 it had failed to earn a regional title.
“A PK (penalty-kill) shootout is what it is. You can practice it but in this case it just did not happen,” said Edwardsville coach Mark Heiderscheid. “We had guys uncharacteristically miss. Again, it happens.
“And in the first half, we had an unfortunate slip in the mud. That’s what it took.”
Down 1-0 at halftime, Edwardsville had Mohammad Hamad and Michael Picchiotti knock shots off the post by before finally tying it with 8:19 remaining.
Zach Timmermann hit the equalizer on a shot from the left side, the ball finding him off a header from a teammate involved in a scrum in front of the net.
It remained 1-1 through the rest of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime.
In penalty kicks, Hamad and Kyle Wright for Edwardsville and Collinsville’s Josh Wobbe and Jordan Blasingame both converted their attempts.
That’s when Michael Picchiotti blasted his shot off the top of the crossbar, providing an opening for Collinsville.
The Kahoks’ Brendan Peterson responded by getting the ball past Tigers’ keeper Dan Picchiotti.
Niedzwiecki then stopped the attempt of Mills, setting the stage for Zach Cawvey to knock in the clincher.
“We were on the other end of this last year, losing in the regional final in PKs to Quincy,” said Smith. “We’ve said since the beginning of the season, we would not let that get us down.
“And we had Brett Niedzwiecki, one of the state’s best goalies, make a big save there. After that we told our boys to keep it on frame, keep it low, and anything can happen.”
Collinsville senior Sabas Avalos tallied the only goal of the opening half.
Latching onto a loose ball after an Edwardsville defender slipped in the mud looking to make an outlet pass, Avalos banged the ball past Dan Picchiotti from 22 yards out for the game’s first score just shy of 38 minutes into the game.
“I saw the defender fall and the ball was right there,” said Avalos, who has eight goals on the season. “I just wanted to make sure I got the shot on goal and was able to get to the right of the keeper.
“It was big to get a lead like that on a great team like Edwardsville.”
Edwardsville’s best scoring chance of the first half came about 16 minutes in when Michael Picchiotti seemed poised to go in alone on Niedzwiecki only to be taken down from behind.
The Tigers were unable to muster a shot on goal on their ensuing possession.