The Lady Longhorns’ visit to the 1A-3A state girls soccer tournament was short-lived, with a 3-1 loss to Tucson Desert Christian in the opening round played Oct. 30 at Tempe Sports Complex.
Because the eight-team fray was conducted in a single elimination format, the loss sent the Lady Horns packing back to Payson, vowing to do better next season.
PHS earned a berth in the post season as the East’s No. 4 seed, and was pitted against DC, the same team that eliminated Payson last season in the opening round. That game, however, had to be decided in a shootout after the two teams remained tied through two overtimes.
For Friday’s game, the Tucson school jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on two breakaway goals. Following those, DC played somewhat conservatively, holding on for the win.
Payson’s lone goal appeared to be scored by Becca Branstetter when she followed in a miss hit by a DC player.
With the victory, DC — the West region champion and a No. 1 seed — advanced to the second round the following day against Show Low, the East’s No. 2 seed.
The Lady Cougars upended DC 2-1 to advance to the tournament championship to be played at noon Nov. 7 at Gilbert Campo Verde High School.
The gold medal finale will be an all-East affair as Show Low’s opponent is the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets, the region’s No. 3 seed.
To reach the finals, Blue Ridge ambushed East champion St. Johns 2-1 in the semifinals.
In the first round, Blue Ridge romped over Verde Valley 5-1. Show Low beat River Valley 2-0 in the opening round.
Payson’s tournament appearance marked the culmination of the regular season that was sometimes marred by player absences due to illness, suspensions and ineligibilities, coach Joe Schmidt said.
Most of the season, the Lady Horns were buoyed by the one-two punch of Branstetter and Sarah Cluff. Branstetter is a senior who will graduate next spring, but Cluff is a junior with another year of athletic ability remaining.