Carl Junction’s Brooke Buchele netted a game-winning goal in a penalty shootout to lift the North over the South in the girls soccer showcase of the Central Ozark Conference Senior Games on Monday night at Joplin High School.

The Senior Games was a one-day event organized by the athletic directors and coaches of the COC to highlight the seniors who saw their spring seasons taken away because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The soccer showcase pitted seniors from each member school against one another in a North-versus-South format, with Joplin, Carthage, Carl Junction and Willard making up the North team and Neosho, Branson, Nixa, Ozark and Republic making up the South. Similar to a senior night, each player was honored at midfield prior to the start of the game.

“It was pretty exciting for everybody to get together, and I think the product on the field ended up being something entertaining and pretty fun to watch,” Joplin coach Josh Thompson said. “It doesn’t make up for a whole missing season, but I think it definitely meant something to them today.”

A 1-1 tie at the end of regulation led to the first round of the penalty shootout, which resulted in a 3-3 tie after Joplin’s Jade Talbot pulled the North even with a goal just inside the left post.

The second round, played in sudden death format, started out in a 1-1 tie as Carl Junction’s Izabella Burgess and Nixa’s Ellie Osborne scored for the North and the South, respectively.

North goalkeeper Ashley Stokes of Carl Junction put her team in favorable position with a save on a shot by Nixa’s Karlie Haskins that kept the second round tied at 1-1. Then Buchele took advantage with a chip shot into the top left corner of the net to send the North home with the victory.

“I think it was really great for the conference to do something like this in general for these seniors,” Joplin coach Josh Thompson said. “You can see that there’s a big group out here who lost their final high school season, and that last season means so much. It’s your curtain call where you’re going to leave everything out on the field. And for a lot of them, it’s the last time they’re going to play organized soccer. So again, it’s great to get together and do something like this.”

“It was a great game, and it makes you really hate it that we didn’t get to have a season,” Neosho coach Steve Schnackenberg said. “These girls played with a lot of heart. It was just a good, technical game. I just hate it that these girls weren’t able to enjoy another full season of this.”

The South drew first blood early on a goal in the second minute by Ozark’s Olivia Belles, who took advantage of a solo breakaway with a tap-in shot past the outstretched arms of Stokes.

The 1-0 advantage for the South remained until Burgess received a pass from Joplin’s Annabelle Erisman and booted a hooking shot from near the top of the box that ricocheted off the left post and into the net in the 62nd minute, squaring up the game at 1-1.

“We were finally able to break through,” Thompson said. “I think they snuck one past us when we were asleep early in the first half. It really was just a back-and-forth game after that. We were a little worried after that second minute, but we definitely came through.

“Izabella and (Carthage’s Jazuri Lopez) were really active up top and causing a lot of trouble. I think they both just kind of wore them down before Izabella was finally able to finish one off. She had been showing some moves off, and she was really creative. So I’m glad she knocked one in there.”

Stokes finished regulation with seven saves for the North while South goalkeeper Maddie Wells, of Republic, had five.

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