Effingham Daily News
Kyle Blievernicht’s injured leg was killing him throughout Saturday’s Class 1A Olney Regional championship match against Mount Carmel.
An overtime collision with Aces goaltender Cameron Kieffer certainly didn’t help matters. But Blievernicht and the Wooden Shoes’ mental anguish was even greater than the junior forward’s physical pain after he went sprawling out of bounds.
“We just couldn’t find the back of the net,” said Blievernicht, whose header from point-blank range was stuffed by Kieffer, keeping the match tied at 1-1.
It was the latest in a long line of missed opportunities by the Wooden Shoes’ offense, which had numerous shots on goal, but far too many directly at Kieffer.
“We just couldn’t put it in the corner of the goal like we should have been,” T-Town coach Dustin Jansen said.
“We’ve had that problem a lot, and me too, personally,” Blievernicht said. “I’ve had a lot of runs where I just hit it right at the goalie. But you just have to get back on your feet and keep trying.”
And that’s exactly what Blievernicht did, as his breakaway shot on the Wooden Shoes’ next possession trickled by Kieffer, turning T-Town’s frustration into elation. Ryan Westendorf added an insurance goal moments later, as T-Town went on to win by a 3-1 margin that failed to reflect how close the match was throughout.
Mount Carmel took a quick 1-0 lead on a goal by Nate Jackson just four minutes into the match, and the enjoyed that lead for the next 68 minutes. But just when it seemed like the Wooden Shoes would never score, T-Town got the elusive tying score from the unlikeliest of sources.
Sophomore Mitch Meinhart picked a perfect time for his first career varsity goal, getting a header past two charging Aces defenders with about eight minutes remaining. Blievernicht set up Meinhart with a cross to the weak side, and the sophomore got his shot past a charging
Kieffer, absorbing a hit by the much larger Mount Carmel senior in the process.
“He saved us right there,” Jansen said. “We’ve been preaching to him all year long — you’re going to make that run to that back corner a
hundred times and it’s going to count once. And it did. He’s a sophomore and he stepped up at the right time of the year. Just absolutely unbelievable.”
The Aces missed from point-blank range two times in the final seven minutes of regulation, helping the Wooden Shoes to their second straight overtime in a regional final. But unlike last year — when the Wooden Shoes knocked off rival St. Anthony on penalty kicks after a number of scoreless overtime frames — T-Town’s offense came alive in OT and its defense continued to get the job done.Mount Carmel nearly snuck a
high shot over T-Town goalkeeper Seth Belford early in overtime, but Rachel Westendorf cleared the deflected shot before it bounced into the net.
It was one of several huge plays by T-Town’s defense. Belford finished with 12 saves, as the Shoes held the Aces’ Fabian Nordell — who
went off for four goals during the regular season against St. Anthony — to a rare scoreless day.
“I can’t say enough for our defense,” Jansen
said. “Our defense stepped up all day long.”
Blievernicht’s game-winner was set up by a nice outlet pass near midfield by Jordan Niebrugge.
Blievernicht beat Aces defender Derek Zimmer downfield and gave the Shoes a lead they would not relinquish.
“It was awesome,” Blievernicht said. “I don’t even know how to describe it. To make that goal was amazing.
“If I hadn’t made that one, I don’t even know what I would have done. That one was going in for sure. I had to do that for myself and for my team to make myself feel better for the last one I missed.”
Ryan Westendorf’s insurance score came from a tough angle on the right side and sealed the
“Nail in the coffin right there,” Blievernicht said. “I think that one really put them down and that’s when we knew we had it.”
T-Town wound up taking 17 shots, 13 on goal. But the Shoes also had a goal wiped off the board in the first half, as Niebrugge was whistled for offsides at the exact moment he found the back of the net, adding to their frustration during a 72-minute scoring drought.
Fortunately for the Shoes, they didn’t let their offensive struggles get the best of them.
“A lot of teams start bickering and fall apart after that many missed opportunities,” Jansen said. “We never did that. We just kept pushing forward.”
The Wooden Shoes move on to the St. Anthony Sectional, where they will take on Carlinville in a 4 p.m. semifinal on Tuesday.