Granite City junior goalkeeper Neeley Wiehardt guessed wrong on a shot by Belleville West midfielder Melanie Kulig in the sudden death round of penalty kicks on Wednesday at the Class 3A Granite City Regional Soccer Tournament.
But it didn’t matter.
A sophomore midfielder, Kulig saw her shot glance off the right goalpost to give the sixth-seeded Warriors a 3-2 win over their Southwestern Conference rivals in a weather-delayed opening round playoff game.
“I guessed she (Kulig) was going left and so that’s the way I moved. I was so glad to see the shot hit off the post because if it didn’t, I had no chance of making the save because I went the other way,” Wiehardt said. “They (West) beats us 3-0 early in the year so to be able to win this is great.”
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As a stunned Kulig stood in disbelief, the sixth-seeded Warriors (9-6-4) celebrated as they move into the regional title game on Friday against another SWC foe Edwardsville on Friday at 6 p.m.
The second-seeded Tigers advanced with a 3-1 win over Quincy in the second game on Wednesday.
Granite City, which outscored Belleville West 5-4 in penalty kicks to advance, led 2-0 late in the first half as Grace Neidhardt and Lexi Grote scored. But thanks to a Maroons rally which included goals by Taylor Mathenia and Addison Hanusek, the Warriors were forced into overtime and a second round of penalty kicks after both teams connected on four of five shots in first round.
“I’m one of the few people you’ll find who really dislikes having a game like this decided on penalty kicks,” Warriors coach Kenny Prazma said. “I’m pleased that we won. We played very well in the first half when Grace and Lexi were able to break loose and score.
“But to have a game like this where both teams play hard for two halves and then two overtime periods, decided on penalty kicks, doesn’t sit well with me. It’s a tough way to win and lose. After all, they are just kids.”
Maroons bounce back
Mathenia, who was sidelined for a few minutes in the first half after getting hit in the eye, had three good chances to score in the first 40 minutes. The first one, which came on a nearly a clean breakaway, went over the cross bar.
But not a minute after Grote’s goal gave Granite City a 2-0 lead, Mathenia beat Niehardt from 20 yards out to pull West to within a goal with still four minutes remaining in the first half.
When Hanusek scored off a free kick with 21 minutes left in the game, the score was tied at 2.
“I was very proud of the way we fought back today,” a dejected West coach Jason Mathenia said. “With the exception of the first 15 minutes I thought we had the better of the play and we certainly had the better scoring chances. We had some good shots that we just didn’t finish.
“Record-wise (10-9-2) it wouldn’t appear that we had that successful of a season. But our schedule was the toughest that it’s been. We played teams who were ranked in the top five in Illinois and teams who were ranked in the top five in Iowa. We played hard all year. That’s all I can ask.’’
Edwardsville 3, Quincy 1
Edwardsville defender Mallory Mushill scored in the 13th minute, and the Tigers never looked back in eliminating the Blue Devils 3-1 in the second semifinal on Wednesday at Granite City High School.
Junior midfielder Ashlin West and Abigail Crabtree added goals for Edwardsville (18-2-1). Junior Schay Mulherin scored on a penalty kick with a minute left in the first half as eighth-seeded Quincy cut the lead to 2-1.
But Crabtree’s goal in the 13th minute of the second half gave the second-seeded Tigers back their two goal cushion.