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SALT LAKE CITY — The Lehi Pioneers almost gave the East Leopards more than they could handle in the first round of the 4A state tournament on Tuesday.
The senior-heavy Pioneers came out with a formation they had never tried before, rotated consistently to keep fresh legs on the field and executed an inventive game plan to put the Leopards on their toes.
It was nearly enough to pull off the upset, but the top-ranked Leopards escaped with a narrow 2-1 victory with a little over a minute remaining in overtime.
"It seems like we always end up getting a very difficult first round game," East head coach Rudy Schenk said. "Lehi is a solid, solid team."
Lehi goalie Ali Houghton was strong in goal, making several good saves at the end of the second half to send the game into overtime. East outshot the Pioneers 11-4 and tallied over 15 corner kicks to set up a number of decent plays at the goal.
"That's definitely more corners than we've ever attempted in a game before," Schenk said. "Their 'keeper made some great saves, and really kept them in it."
The Leopards exploded into the game, dominating the ball in the first 20 minutes before scoring the opening goal off a beautiful corner kick from Savannah Garn. Garn lifted the ball and found an open Megan Trabert right in the center of the goal for the score.
"It was just a perfect ball," Trabert said. "I couldn't have asked for a better shot."
The Leopards didn't see another decent shot attempt on goal until the 26-minute mark of the second half, thanks mainly to stellar play from Lehi's backline and senior Emily Fox in particular.
Fox, a four-year starter for the Pioneers, often plays just defense, but played midfield in Lehi's new rotation and disrupted play throughout the field with tough, hard-nosed soccer.
"She's the heart and soul of our team," Lehi head coach Brett Bergholm said. "She's just an incredible player."
Lehi equalized when Kelsey Hancock hit the back of the net with a header to the corner with 12:20 remaining in regulation.
"We knew if we could continue to pound the ball down the field, eventually a shot would fall," Bergholm said.
The Leopards responded to the now backs-against-the-wall situation by controlling the tempo for the majority of the final 10 minutes and getting four solid shots on goal. East's best try came off a fantastic no-look shot attempt from a designed corner play by East senior Sarah Skanchy. Houghton happened to be in the right spot to gather the ball for the save.
The Leopards opened overtime much like they opened the game, with new-found energy and control.
"They really gutted it out. I made very few subs," Schenk said. "I wanted to take my horses to the end."
Junior Laura Ann Drury scored the golden goal with an absolutely pinpoint placement from about 35 yards out to the upper-corner of the net, just where Houghton couldn't reach it.
"I was just aiming for the entire net and it went to the right spot," Drury said. "I hate shootouts and I just thought this is the last chance, take it."
East now faces Timpview in the 4A quarterfinals at home on Thursday at 4 p.m.