By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Ozark, Mo. — Rivalry week typically brings out the best between longtime Christian County foes Nixa and Ozark.
And then, sometimes, things just get plain weird.
Nixa’s Erin Crawford broke a scoreless tie with a penalty kick goal in the 57th minute of play to help propel the Lady Eagles to a 1-0 victory.
The first half featured a back-and-forth struggle for momentum, with Ozark creating the lion’s share of scoring opportunities.
The Lady Tigers utilized a series of runs from junior standout and Mizzou commit Jadyn Easley to help open up the attack lanes, and nearly scored on three separate occasions within the first ten minutes of play.
Nixa head coach Evan Palmer talked about the difficulties a player like Easley creates.
“Ozark’s got a great team,” Palmer said. “Whenever the ball got to Jadyn, it’s always an, ‘Oh boy.’ You never know what’s going to happen. We did a good job of just kind of letting her do her thing, but not give up in the attacking third; make sure we get press and cover — if she beats somebody, we’ve got somebody else there.”
Nixa goalkeeper Riley McClintock’s diving save in the 11th minute thwarted Ozark’s early-game blitz and helped finally stabilize things on the pitch for the Lady Eagles.
The sophomore goalkeeper credits her training and ability to communicate with teammates for her success in the box.
“It’s just all about being behind the ball and being at the right angle at the right time,” McClintock said. “We all tend to talk back there and communicate, so it just works out.”
With mere seconds remaining in the first half, things got a bit chaotic.
After a foul in front of the Ozark goal, Crawford stepped forward to take a penalty kick with 11 seconds left on the clock.
The junior midfielder’s blast appeared to pass by the hand of Ozark goalkeeper Addy Lasley; however, a hole in the back of the netting failed to stop its progress.
(SEE VIDEO OF THE SHOT AT THE 56-SECOND MARK OF THE VIDEO ABOVE)
With no clear visual, officials ruled the play a missed attempt, and Palmer quickly sought to maintain control of his team’s emotions.
“They were upset,” Palmer said. “Obviously, they were upset, because they saw it go in. It looks like we have video that shows it going in. It’s tough on the referee. He’s got to be here, the other guy’s there and there, obviously, shouldn’t be a hole in the net. We just told them, ‘What can we do about it? It’s already been decided. You’ve got to just let it go, and we’ve got to play soccer.’”
With the game still scoreless, the team’s played on into the second half.
As fate would have it, Nixa received a second penalty kick midway through the half.
Only fitting, of course, to have Crawford line up for a second attempt.
This time, nothing was left to chance. Crawford went mid-right post and caught Lasley moving in the other direction.
“That was definitely an unfortunate call,” Crawford said of the earlier penalty kick result. “It made everyone mad, but there’s nothing you can do about it. When it passed through the hole, that was not good, but it made us work harder as a team to get back in it. Luckily, we got another one.”
With Lasley nearly making a play on the ball, Palmer felt fortunate to finally have a score on the board.
“It’s one of those things where, on the first one, the goalie did get a finger on it, but it was well inside the post,” Palmer said. “And then, this other one, was not as good of a penalty kick, and she just got the goalie going the other way. It was nice to get one of them, at least.”
Despite a late deficit, Ozark wasn’t quite ready to turn in for the evening.
A late rally in the final minute of play yielded a free kick from 20 yards out for the Lady Tigers and a final shot an equalizer with only ten seconds remaining; however, the shot sailed over the goal and sealed the Nixa victory.
“The last few years have just been great games with [Ozark],” Palmer said. “We finally found a way to win. You know, they’ve beat us the last two out of three times, so it’s nice to get that win. We still have a lot of soccer to play, but it’s nice to kind of be in the driver’s seat in the conference.”
After a quick turnaround, Ozark (10-6) is back in action Wednesday, April 25, against Springfield Central. Nixa (7-5-1) hosts Carthage Thursday, April 26.
Varsity Final: Nixa – 1, Ozark – 0
57:00 Goal – Nixa Erin Crawford (penalty kick) 1-0