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Key defensive play helps O'Fallon edge Belleville East in regional semifinal

Key defensive play helps O'Fallon edge Belleville East in regional semifinal

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O'FALLON, ILL. — Ben Koenig made sure he was patient Tuesday even as streaked across the field like a bolt of lightning.

"I knew I had time, so I wanted to make sure I put a solid foot on it," Koenig said. "I didn't want to kick it into my own goal. I've seen it too many times on the internet."

The O’Fallon High senior midfielder cleared a shot by Belleville East senior Owen Trudt that was headed toward an open goal late in the Class 3A O’Fallon Regional boys soccer semifinal.

Thanks to that defensive play, Brendan Hill's goal off an assist from Matteo Boasso five minutes into the second half held up for the Panthers in a 1-0 victory.

"It’s just kind of how our season has gone," Koenig said. "We've had trouble finding the net, but we only need one to win and we got the one."

O'Fallon (14-4-2) advanced to play at home in the regional final at 6 p.m. Saturday against Collinsville (13-8).

The Panthers are seeking their first regional title since 2014. Their 14-win season is a program-best since the 2011 team went 19-4-1 and reached a sectional final.

"It's just survive and advance,” O'Fallon coach Jason Turkington said. “After 19 years of doing this, that's just what you've got to do."

O’Fallon won a season-high fifth game in a row by winning 1-0 against Belleville East (7-11-2) for the second time this season.

The Lancers also owned a 1-0 victory against the Panthers, so it was little surprise Koenig’s goal-saving play made a difference.

Belleville East’s Trudt flicked his shot toward the open goal after getting past O’Fallon goalkeeper Steven Merrill, only to have Koenig deny the opportunity.

"When the ball was flicked through, I said, 'Goal,' " Turkington said.

Belleville East suffered a loss in the opening round of the regional tournament for the fifth consecutive season.

But the Lancers were coming off a quality nonconference victory against Carbondale last week and looked capable of pulling off some victories in the postseason.

"That's been our thing all year — competing," Belleville East coach James Chambers said. "We're not the most skilled teams in the Southwestern Conference, but we were competing on a daily level. Just be willing to grind it out and battle. The grueling schedule of the conference prepared us for a game like this."

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