Granite City’s emotional roller-coaster ended on a high Friday night.
Junior goalie Neeley Wiehardt made three consecutive saves in penalty kicks to spark the Warriors to a 2-1 victory over Edwardsville in the championship game of the Class 3A Granite City Regional before a large crowd at Gene Baker Field.
Granite City, which avenged a 2-1 loss to the host Tigers on May 9, outscored Edwardsville 3-1 in penalty kicks. The game was tied at 1 after regulation and two 10-minute overtimes.
“I’ve never done this before, so I was nervous,” said Wiehardt, adding that she could tell where the Edwardsville kickers were aiming in PKs. “You could see it in their eyes, which way they were going to go and with the way they lined up their body. So that really helped me. I just told myself to calm down, breathe and do what I thought I needed to do.”
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The Warriors (10-6-4) will play Collinsville or Alton in the semifinals of the Normal Sectional at 7 p.m. Tuesday at O’Fallon High School. Collinsville (17-1-2) and Alton (12-5-3) will meet at 5 p.m. Saturday in the championship game of the Collinsville Regional.
Edwardsville, which scored the tying goal with 1:59 to play in regulation, finished 18-3-1.
“I think we played really, really well tonight,” Tigers coach Abby Comerford said. “The first half, we dominated the entire half. We were able to get that late goal to push it into OT. We had a couple of chances in OT, they had a chance or two. The girls played well.
“We needed to find feet a little more. (But) overall, the girls played hard the entire game. I’m definitely proud of this group. The girls never let down.”
Granite City was ahead 2-1 in the PK period when Wiehardt made the first of her three successive saves, against junior Abigail Crabtree. But the Warriors next shooter, senior Emily Smith, pushed her attempt wide left as Edwardsville retained hope.
Wiehardt, however, stopped senior Jane Ann Crabtree, and Warriors senior Shelby Winn converted past freshman Regan Windau to put Granite City up 3-1. Wiehardt sealed the victory by saving a PK by junior Mallory Mushill. Granite City fans then swarmed the field.
“It’s definitely nerve-racking taking PKs for a regional championship,” Winn said. “To know that I hit it right where I needed to was definitely (rewarding). “You’ve got to put the nerves aside. Our crowd, obviously, was really loud every time anything happened. You’ve got to tune everything out and just do what you have to do.”
It was the Warriors’ second straight regional title. They reached the championship game by defeating Belleville West in penalty kicks Wednesday.
“Fortunately for us, Neeley came up huge and made some big saves for us,” Granite City coach Kenny Prazma said. “We did give up the goal with two minutes left. The girls were a little down, but we did a lot of talking to them. ... We tried to get them back in the game, and I think they did an admirable job of hanging in there and fighting until the end.”
Granite City grabbed a 1-0 lead on junior Grace Niedhardt’s goal from the right side of the box off a throw-in from freshman Megan Jones at 22 minutes, 7 seconds.
Both teams had opportunities to convert in the second half, but it was Edwardsville that gained the equalizer when junior Allysiah Belt took a forward pass from Jane Ann Crabtree and scored from inside the box at 78:01.
“It was definitely a clutch goal,” Comerford said.
Abigail Crabtree nearly put the Tigers ahead early in the second overtime, but Wiehardt, perhaps offering an indication of what was to come, made a strong save.