By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Chances missed, pressure mounting and now facing a sudden-death scenario.
The Greenwood Blue Jays ended all the drama just one minute into overtime in Thursday night’s Class 1 District 5 tournament finals.
Junior Hugh McWay set up Zach Bailey for a golden goal in the 81st minute as Greenwood defeated upset-minded Fair Grove, 1-0.
“We played 80 minutes of scoreless soccer and just like that, gosh, it’s over,” Bailey said.
The victory gives Greenwood its third district title since 2016. Before 2016, Greenwood had gone over a decade without winning a district title.
“These overtime wins, when they come out on your end, it’s great,” said Greenwood coach Chris Shull. “But boy, it’s stressful.”
Shull said his team should be proud of winning a district tournament that also includes New Covenant Academy and Joplin private schools Thomas Jefferson and College Heights.
“I’ve been saying this for a few years now: Every team in our district can win this tournament,” Shull said. “We’re just a Class 1 district, but all the coaches are invested and their kids play hard and go 110 percent.
“Anyone can win this district. We’re fortunate, and we’ll take it. We’re happy.”
Greenwood advances to the eight-team Class 1 state tournament. The Blue Jays will play at either Laquey or Dixon on Nov. 16 in the quarterfinal round, with the winner of that match moving on to the Class 1 final four Nov. 22-23 in Fenton.
Laquey and Dixon play for the District 5 title at 3 p.m. Friday in Laquey.
Greenwood (15-4 overall) had won nine straight until losing to Logan-Rogersville in its regular season finale.
“How far we’ve come from where we started, it’s amazing,” Bailey said.
The game-winner saw junior Hugh McWay slip a ball through to Bailey, who beat his defender and the goalkeeper for the open-net finish.
“I turned (against) the last defender on the right side, saw Zach Bailey running through the middle and I just passed one up to him and hoped for the best,” McWay said. “I had a good feeling it would get through to him.”
Said Bailey: “Coach (Shull) told us during the break before overtime that what we needed was angled runs… I did an angled run, and we scored.”
Both teams had scoring chances throughout the match. Greenwood nearly won it late in regulation off a rebound opportunity.
Fair Grove, which upset No. 2 seed New Covenant 2-1 in PKs in Tuesday’s semifinals, didn’t back down and managed to keep Greenwood off the scoreboard for 80 minutes.
“The doubt crept in,” Shull said. “When you don’t finish your chances early, that happens. Fair Grove did a beautiful job of defending and making it tough on us.
“I don’t think we’ve had to work so hard for a goal this season.”
Greenwood won 3-0 at Fair Grove in a Sept. 24 regular season match.
“They really grew and improved as a team since the last time we played them,” McWay said about Fair Grove, which finishes 8-13 overall.