Collinsville goalie makes key saves against Belleville West
Collinsville certainly could have scored more goals Thursday night, but after the way the season started, the Kahoks were plenty happy about a 2-0 victory over Belleville West.
Sophomore Logan Whitehead and senior Clay Hartman scored first-half goals and senior Brett Niedzwiecki shined in goal as the Kahoks won their Southwestern Conference opener.
The victory was a relief for coach Clay Smith, whose team was coming off season-opening losses to Alton Marquette (2-0) and Vianney (2-1).
“It’s a good first win. It’s a good road conference win in a tough place to play,” said Smith, whose team is 1-2 and 1-0. “It’s a good Belleville West team, like they always are. They’re well-coached and they play tough. Overall, I’m happy with the result and we kept the shutout.”
The Maroons, who fell to 1-3 and 0-1, played better in the second half, managing to keep Collinsville off the board. But West could muster no offense of its own.
“We were jittery at the start,” Maroons coach Rob Thornberry said. “Their second goal, the ball’s bouncing around in our box and we just needed to clear it. But their center back (Hartman) came up and just hit a pill. He shouldn’t have even had that opportunity. We should have cleared it out.”
Whitehead made it 1-0 less than four minutes into the game, taking a pass from junior Nick Suria and hitting a shot into the right post with West senior keeper Erik Orchard off his line.
Whitehead had another shot attempt cleared off the line by a Maroons defender in the 11th minutes, but Collinsville made it 2-0 on Hartman’s goal at 32:05.
The play began with a throw-in from the right side. The Maroons were unable to clear, and Hartman ripped a shot from 28 yards out. Senior Sabas Avalos had the assist.
“(Finishing) has been a problem the first two games, so for us to come out and score early like that was a good thing,” Smith said. “I don’t think it makes our play any different. We still press on, but we’re just having trouble putting the ball on goal right now. It’s early in the season. It’s an early season struggle. I’ll take that problem over some other problems.
“We can work on that and get better. We have some weapons to put it in the net. That’s why we play a lot of games.”
Niedzwiecki on his game
Niedzwiecki, an all-stater last season, swatted away the Maroons’ most dangerous scoring chances of the game in a 2 1/2-minute span in the second half.
At 48 minutes, 1 second, West junior Blake Williams dribbled around a defender and had only Niedzwiecki to beat, but Niedzwiecki knocked out Williams’ attempt in front of the left post.
“To me, that was a golden opportunity,” Thornberry said.
At 50:27, Maroons senior Trevor Biver had a free kick from about 25 yards out. Biver struck it well, but Niedzwiecki dived to his right and pushed the ball away.
“Brett’s one of the best goalies in the state,” Smith said. “He came up huge on that breakaway to keep us (in control) of the game. It’s his senior year, he’s the captain and he knows what it takes to lead this team. Those are two saves we expect Brett to make, and he knows that.”
With the Kahoks’ offense still struggling to find itself, Niedzwiecki’s saves were critical.
“Goals are definitely going to come as we work harder and harder,” Niedzwiecki said. “As long as we’re solid in the back, we’ll find a way to score.”
Hartman and seniors Jordan Blasingame, Jared Brooke, Zach Stenger and Jesus Valverde anchored the defense in front of Niedzwiecki.