Traditionally, in prep sport state tournaments, top seeds have an easy time of it in opening round games, because they are paired against a much lower seed from another region.
But, in the first round of the 1A-3A girls state tournament Oct. 27 in Tempe, East region champion Blue Ridge was pushed to the limit before falling to the fifth seeded Lady Longhorns by a 2-1 margin.
Usually, a state qualifier would not open against a team from its own region, as was the case this year with Blue Ridge and Payson. But, because the West region only sent three teams to the state tournament, the East was allowed to have five representatives to fill out the eight-team bracket.
In taking on the Yellow Jackets for the third time this season, coach Joe Schmidt opted for a strategy change.
"We sent Hannah Lee forward from stopper and pushed the wings and midfielders up as well," he said.
The strategy allowed senior Caitlyn Fruth to out-leg the Yellow Jackets goalkeeper to a loose ball and score Payson's lone goal with eight minutes remaining.
Fruth's tally pulled the Lady Horns to within a goal, but the team could never score the game-tieing point, despite having several excellent opportunities.
"We took 10 shots on the BR goalkeeper in the last eight minutes but fell just short of sending the game into overtime," Schmidt said.
The coach said the tone of the game was set in the first half, which "was very physical and defensively oriented with neither team being able to maintain much ball control."
He cited Kirscha Wholly, Danielle Dillon and Alexia Robles for spearheading an aggressive defense from the midfield line.
"They turned back every BR attack and sent the balls up to Michelle Wing and Shanna Coleman who were totally dominating the midfield," he said.
The coach also lauded Kayla Morgan for her efforts at goalkeeper.
"She (was) an outstanding goalkeeper with some outstanding saves and deflections of hard shots," he said.
Following BR's victory, the Yellow Jackets lost 2-1 in the second round to East region third seed St. Johns.
In the first round, Sedona beat Snowflake, 3-0, and Show Low dumped Chino Valley 3-2. In the second round, Sedona -- the West region champ -- thumped Show Low 4-0.
St. Johns and Sedona will clash tomorrow, Saturday, at Canyon State Academy for the state championship. Game time is noon.