Bolivar was five minutes away from achieving a first-half goal and being in position to have history repeat itself.
That’s when Springfield Catholic sophomore Brinn Cooper – the lone healthy player among Catholic’s returning all-state trio – went to work.
Cooper scored twice in the final five minutes of the first half, a decisive stretch that gave the Irish a 2-1 win over the Liberators and secured another COC-Small championship.
“We try to always focus on being tied or winning at halftime. That’s one of our goals,” said Bolivar coach Steven Fast. “To give up the second (goal) there late in the half was deflating.”
Cooper’s goals were a contrast in styles. The first came on a rope from the middle of the field from about 35 yards out. The second, with just over a minute remaining in the half, came after she capitalized off a rebound near the net, amid traffic.
“I think (players) were a little down from the first goal, but I don’t think we weren’t playing hard. I think we just lost a little bit of focus,” Fast said. “The ball gets to bouncing around in the box, you never know what’s going to happen.”
With sophomore Peyton McNabb out for the season following preseason knee surgery, and Missouri State commit Emma Skornia sidelined indefinitely with a leg injury suffered April 1, Cooper has become Catholic’s clear-cut No. 1 scorer.
A sophomore, Cooper matched McNabb for the team lead in goals last season and was an assist shy of tying her in overall points.
“She’s who we’re looking to for scoring,” Catholic coach Ben Timson said of Cooper. “We need to get some more players involved in that. It’s not effective if it’s just one person scoring.
“We’ve been moving girls around and they’re adjusting to it. We’ll just keep going forward.”
Bolivar made it interesting in an evenly played second half. The Liberators, following a free kick, scored in the 66th minute as midfielder Grace VanHoornbeek quickly acted upon a deflected ball near the top of the box, slotting it into the lower left corner.
On the feet of St. Louis University commit Brionna Halverson, the Liberators again threatened multiple times in the final 10 minutes, but Catholic goalkeeper Ellie Palmer didn’t allow another ball through as the Irish improved to 10-2-1 overall.
Catholic’s only losses have come to Skutt Catholic (Neb.) and Class 4 No. 2-ranked Eureka. Bolivar dropped to 6-2 overall.
“I love this (Bolivar) team in terms of the way they play,” Timson said. “They just battle. They’re well-coached, they fight. They play hard, physical and clean soccer. We have to step up to that every time.”
It was the first meeting between the two teams in Bolivar since 2014, when the Liberators posted their first and only victory (1-0) against Catholic in program history.
“I’m sure that still lingers in coach’s mind and everybody’s mind,” Fast said. “It’s a good rivalry to have, conference opponent and district opponent too. We’ll look to get healthy, Catholic will do the same, and I’m sure it’ll be a heck of a match if we meet on down the road.”
Except for one tie, Catholic has won all other meetings against Bolivar in the series’ history, which dates back to the mid-2000s.
With both teams in Class 2, District 9, Bolivar and Catholic could meet again in May for a district championship. The Irish beat the Liberators 6-1 in last year’s district final.
Bolivar hosts another district opponent, Osage, on Thursday. Catholic competes in the Kickapoo Shootout April 14-16, in a pool that includes Kearney, Webb City and Kirkwood.
Catholic 2, Bolivar 1
Catholic 2 0 — 2
Bolivar 0 1 — 1
Catholic – Brinn Cooper (Kenzie Serrano assist)
Catholic – Cooper (Andrea Gray assist)
Bolivar – Grace VanHoornbeek (unassisted)