The highly regarded Pinnacle Pioneers narrowly survived an upset bid from the underdog Payson Longhorn boys soccer team.
In the non-regional clash Dec. 14 in North Phoenix, the Longhorns (1-2) played Pinnacle to 1-1 halftime tie before the favored Pioneers rallied late to win 3-1.
According to Payson High School coach Roger Wholly, the superior conditioning of the Pinnacle players was the difference in the game.
"Pinnacle, a more conditioned team, took over (with) 20 minutes left in the game when it was still a tie," he said. "Our heavy legs allowed them to work very effectively in our defensive third (of the field)."
Pinnacle's go-ahead and insurance goals were both scored within two minutes of one another.
"That's all it took to end our chance of a win," Wholly said.
The coach said his players will step up their training before the season resumes Jan. 5 at Phoenix Cactus Park against Moon Valley.
"Conditioning is priority one," Wholly said. "We need to run hard for the whole 80 minutes."
While the team's lack of conditioning was a disappointment, Wholly found solace in the stellar play of goalie Erik Monty.
In the first half, the determined Monty was able to deflect Pinnacle's 25 corner kicks, a penalty kick and two direct kicks just outside the 18-yard box.
Pinnacle was held scoreless until 29 seconds remained in the half when the Pioneers finally tallied on a direct kick outside the box.
"Monty got a hand on the shot, but not enough to stop it from going in," Wholly said.
Just minutes earlier, Payson had taken a 1-0 lead on Patrick Karlowski's direct kick from about 30 yards out.
"It was a beautiful bending ball (that passed) just under the cross bar away from the Pinnacle goal who was caught off guard," Wholly said.,
Following the Longhorns visit to Cactus Park against Moon Valley, the team will open the Grand Canyon Region season at 1 p.m. Jan. 8 at Rumsey Park against the Flagstaff Eagles.