Lehi junior Hadlee Paxman knew her team needed a boost.
The Pioneers were locked in a tough battle at home against Region 7 foe Orem in the first round of the 5A state playoffs Thursday afternoon. Lehi had scored first but the Tigers had answered with a goal to tie the game.
“We needed to get some energy,” Paxman said. “I felt like we were down, like they were coming on strong.”
Then Paxman saw the perfect opportunity to change the momentum.
Lehi freshman Stephanie Roper got the ball on the right side of the field and Paxman burst toward the Orem goal. She timed her run perfectly and Roper slotted the ball through.
Then it was just Paxman and the Tiger keeper.
“That’s nerve-wracking,” Paxman said. “When it is just you and the goalie, it looks easy but it is stressful. I knew I had to get the ball in for our team.”
The Pioneer junior tried to slip the ball past her charging opponent, only to have the Orem keeper get a hand on it.
But Paxman didn’t give up on the play, spotting the ball just behind the Tiger keeper. She was able to regain control of it – and this time she didn’t miss.
“I’ve known Hadlee since she was 8 years old,” Lehi head coach Tim Graham said. “She’s always been able to finish. She is creative and doesn’t give up on the play. When she is in front of the net, I’m confident in her to get the job done.”
Paxman’s goal turned out to be the difference in the game as the Pioneers staved off every Orem attack the rest of the way and advanced in the 5A tournament with the 2-1 victory.
“We all just put our hearts into it out there,” Paxman said. “We knew we had to get into it to get the win. We played for each other.”
Both teams dealt with frigid conditions and the icy north wind that blew steadily across the field throughout the contest. Graham said that can make the game even more of a toss-up.
“With this weather and wind, it was anyone’s game,” he said. “We know how good they are, since we lost one at their place. They always play hard and with so much heart. This wasn’t a team we were going to overlook. Kudos to them for the way they played.”
He did feel, however, that his team had chances to pull away. Lehi had two shots that hit off the post and bounced out, with another going off the crossbar.
The first Pioneer goal came in the 12th minute when senior defender/midfielder Halle Smith got the ball in front of the Orem net and was able to put it away.
But that lead wouldn’t last. The Tigers answered when they got a corner kick in the 38th minute of play.
Orem elected to play the ball short to where senior Serina Tuisuivara was charging up from her defender spot. She fired a beautiful shot that Lehi wasn’t able to deflect off target, getting the equalizer.
After the Pioneers took the lead, the Tigers pushed hard to knot things up again. In the final minute, Orem had a couple of opportunities but Lehi managed to hold on.
“We knew we had a chance to move on and get the win,” Paxman said. “We knew we had to see it through to the end.”
She said it was a huge relief when the final whistle blew and the home team could celebrate a playoff win.
“We just want to keep playing,” Paxman said. “It doesn’t matter who or where. We know we can beat anyone.”
Graham said he’s glad his girls are advancing.
“It feels great,” he said. “They earned it. They have fought all year long and now we will just see where we go from here.”
The No. 11-seed Pioneers will next go on the road to face No. 7-seed Bonneville in the second round, which will take place on Oct. 15.