By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield, Mo. — Springfield Catholic had gone winless against Kickapoo for five long years.
Brinn Cooper’s goal in the 50th minute rewrote that script Monday night, as the Lady Irish held on for a 1-0 victory to end the streak.
Catholic dominated possession in the first half and nearly took an early lead when a Cooper blast from 20 yards out hit the upper cross bar and bounced right in front of freshman goalkeeper Chloe Young.
After watching the senior midfielder turn on a dime and strike the ball, Catholic head coach Ben Timson couldn’t believe the result.
“We had a lot of opportunities in the first half,” Timson said. “That ball that Brinn rung off the crossbar — when she hit that, I thought it was in, but that’s soccer sometimes.”
While Kickapoo spent much of the half defending, the Lady Chiefs did receive a golden opportunity when freshman Teddi Riddle won a footrace down the right side and ended up with a one-on-one opportunity with Catholic goalkeeper Ellie Palmer.
From ten yards outside the penalty box, Riddle blasted a shot at the far corner.
Palmer, a Drury University commit, read it perfectly.
With a fully-extended dive, the senior batted the ball away from the net.
“That’s kind of what we train for every day,” Palmer said. “[Riddle] kind of gave an indication because she was going across her body, so I figured it was going right. So, it makes a reaction in guessing and then hope for the best.”
The best, in this case, was enough to keep the game scoreless.
“That save Ellie made in the first half, I don’t see any way that wasn’t a goal,” Timson said, “She just came out of nowhere and kind of read the player was going to her right, and she committed to it, dove and stretched out fully to make the save. That was huge.”
A goal at that point would have been a crushing blow to the Lady Irish, according to Timson.
“If you’re in that setting where you feel like you’ve got the upper hand for a good portion of the half, and then go down a goal like that, it gets tough,” Timson said, “It’s tough, mentally, so that was a big pick-up for us.”
In the 31st minute, Kaleia Huttenlocher found a seam down the left side for Catholic, but the junior forward’s shot was covered up at the post by Young.
The teams hit the break in a scoreless tie, setting the stage for Cooper’s second-half heroics.
An assist from Huttenlocher off a Catholic set piece found Cooper — another Drury commit — in prime position directly in front of the Kickapoo net and, this time, the senior didn’t miss.
“We always try to take the opportunity of our corners and finish when we can when it’s an easy ball right near their goal,” Cooper said. “It was just bouncing around in the box, and I got a hit and eventually put it in.”
Moments later, the Lady Irish nearly had a second goal when freshman Hayley Singleton narrowly missed a shot just outside the left post.
Down a goal, Kickapoo went on the assault in hopes of grabbing the equalizer.
Lady Chiefs head coach Phil Hodge urged his squad to force the issue.
“We made a little adjustment that the girls kind of did on the fly,” Hodge said. “And then we just discussed at halftime; we had to be a little more assertive on the offensive side and go at their back line.”
The adjustment quickly paid off, as Kickapoo controlled possession for the majority of the period.
“In the second half, [Kickapoo] really turned up the pressure,” Timson said. “They just had us outnumbered in the midfield, and it sure showed up there — especially in the first twenty minutes or so. We just couldn’t get possession of the ball in the middle of the field. They had us on our heels for a while, but we were able to hold them off, fortunately.”
In the game’s final minutes, the Lady Chiefs created a trio of scoring opportunities, yet couldn’t net the equalizer.
A pinpoint crosser directly in front of the Catholic goal box went untouched, a set-piece header from Corrine Edelen slipped over the crossbar and a final one-on-one challenge was met with a Palmer kick save.
After the game, Hodge talked about Kickapoo’s myriad of late-game chances.
“We had a lot of chances on our corners,” Hodge said. “We had 2-v-1 going in on those and just couldn’t get the last touch. I think that’s where we had our one chance where their keeper was kind of stunned and made that kick save. We just couldn’t get it past the last person.”
Late in the match, the Lady Chiefs also saw sophomore standout Jalyn McClean go down with a knee injury.
“A no-contact injury,” Hodge said. “You see it all the time. We pray that she’s going to be OK and get a little rest on it tonight and look at it again tomorrow.”
Kickapoo (7-6) gets a quick turnaround, returning to action Tuesday, April 24, against West Plains. Catholic (13-3) hosts Neosho Wednesday, April 25.
Varsity Final: Catholic – 1, Kickapoo – 0
49:28 Catholic (1-0) Brinn Cooper (Kaleia Huttenlocher assist)