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All-star game awards much more than wins

Although there was a pair of games between all-stars from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties played Saturday, the real winners of the Senior Soccer Challenge were not decided by the scoreboard.

Instead, they were chosen after regulation ended.

Team Pinellas swept the annual event, defeating Hillsborough 2-1 in an overtime shootout of the girls game and 1-0 in the boys. But Melissa Smith of St. Petersburg Catholic, Nathan Bender of Pinellas Park, Beth Remmert of Durant and Justin Hampton of Sickles each walked away with $250 scholarships for being named MVPs of their respective teams.

"The fact that (organizers) can get different people to help out and give out the scholarships is just great," Pinellas coach Holly Freeman said. "It's such a tremendous opportunity for these players."

Event coordinator Frank Ferguson, in his last year running the Senior Soccer Challenge, also awarded a $1,000 scholarship to a player from each team for competing in an essay contest. This year, Ferguson, whose annual event has awarded more than $50,000 in scholarships, recognized Lauren Ophaug of Sickles, Josh Smith of Gaither, Shanna DiNobile of Lakewood and Nick Dorsey of Osceola.

"Frank Ferguson was the founder and he really set up a nice program for the kids," Freeman said. "Without him, all this shouldn't be in existence."

On the field, the Pinellas girls snapped a four-year losing streak in their overtime shootout. Rather than have the game decided on penalty kicks like in high school overtime games, the Challenge uses an MLS-style shootout where the attacker starts 35 yards from the goal and has five seconds to shoot.

After a scoreless regulation, Seminole's Julie Beatty gave Pinellas a 2-1 lead in the third of five rounds and goalkeeper Nikki Paquette, also of Seminole, was able to make the advantage stand.

"There's a pride factor involved," Hillsborough coach Diane Sumner said. "But the bottom line is for these kids to get some more exposure and have fun."

Pinellas won its second consecutive boys Challenge, beating Hillsborough 1-0. Bender corralled a loose ball in the box and beat Gaither goalkeeper James Cobb to the upper right corner of the goal in the game's first minute for the eventual winner.