GODFREY — With the final five minutes of overtime ticking away in Saturday’s scoreless 3A regional play-in game, Granite City soccer coach Ryan Reeves gave a verbal vote of confidence to his goalie, Ymaury Escarene.
“I believe in you,” Reeves shouted. “I’ll take my chances with you in five minutes.”
After 100 minutes of scoreless soccer and two sets of penalty kicks, Granite City emerged with a 6-5 edge in penalties at Piasa Motor Fuels Field. The result means a semifinal berth against host Edwardsville 3A Regional Tournament at 4 p.m. Tuesday. The IHSA will record to outcome as a 1-0 Granite City victory.
Reeves’ confidence was well-placed, despite the fact that Escarene was still getting feet wet as a high school goalie. The backup-turned-starter made three saves in the first set of penalty kicks, setting up a set of sudden-death PKs, which finally ended when the penalty taken by Alton’s last shooter hit the right goal post.
The Warriors, at 1-14-1, came into the game on the heels of the most forgettable season in the perennial soccer power’s history. After the marathon game, they headed home with a memorable victory, thanks in great part to Escarene, who was forced from his field position of striker to goal when regular keeper Braden Dickerson was ruled out of action because of concussion protocol.
Alton, which had defeated Granite city 4-0 earlier in the season, had plenty of chances to win the game in regulation as well as in overtime. But Escarene was like a stone wall.
“I’ve played goalie all my life,” Escarene said, “but not much in high school. Not long at all.”
But evidently long enough.
Normally a forward, Escarene has scored a pair of goals for Granite City this season.
Alton’s ouster left the Redbirds dazed, some heartbroken, and al searching for answers.
The Redbirds ended the season 10-9-2.
“It’s hard to score when the other team is pretty much just playing defense,” Alton coach Nick Funk said. “We dominated them the last time and we had a lot of chances today, but there was something missing. I know our guys wanted it as much as Granite, but sometimes it didn’t look like it.”
Alton goalie Hunter Dill was equal to the task as well. He shut out the Warriors through 100 minutes and madethree saves of his own in the penalty kick shootout.
“Hunter did a great job,” Funk said. “He always does.”
Granite City shooters went first in the shootout. The difference in the sudden-death shootout was that the Redbirds misfired on their last two chances. After each team had made its first three PKs, Dill made a save on No. 4 Granite City shooter No. 4 Jose Rios.
Needing a successful conversion to win the sudden-death session, the fourth Alton attempt instead sailed over the top of the goal, giving Granite City new life.
“It’s a tough way to see it end,” Funk said. “This group came into the season with only two returning starters and they came a long way. It hurts now, but this group will be back and be better.”