It was shaping up as one of those playoff soccer matches that make it one of the best and unpredictable postseasons in high school sports.
Corona del Sol dominated the action against Highland, peppering the Hawks’ goalie with shots from all sorts of angles, set plays, corner kicks and free runs.
Then with Highland up by a goal in the second half on Tuesday, host Corona tied it only to have the goal waved off by the referee.
Frustration started to mount for the No. 4 Aztecs, yellow cards for both squads followed, but all of that was trumped by a three-minute span that completely changed the game in Corona’s favor in a 4-2 win over No. 13 Highland in the first round of the 6A playoffs.
Tanner Pile tied the match on a deflected free kick by Ryan Flood, and then Flood scored a minute later for lead before burying Highland (8-8-1) with a free kick from about 35 feet out in the 70th minute.
“You can't let that kid get unleashed,” Highland coach Rich Esperti said. “He's a difference maker. Plays at a different level. He took over the game the last 18 minutes.”
The Aztecs (17-2-1) advance to face No. 5 Tolleson, which beat No. 12 Chandler, on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Before Flood took over, it appeared it was going to the Hawks’ night as Mason Keck scored two goals, Kyle Pullin made inconceivable stops or the Aztecs misfired on point-blank shots and Highland just missed a third goal that just went wide right of the far post that would have given them a commanding two-gal advantage with 15 minutes left.
“It’s the story of our season,” Esperti said. “Our goalie played the game of his life, but we didn’t take advantage of it. We just missed that third goal. When those close ones go in we win; when they don’t we lose.
“I’m proud of this group; good kids. We got to two playoff games, battled all season.”
Flood, who had his fourth hat trick and seventh multi-goal match of the season, said for a minute they had to question what the fate of this one was going to be with some of the circumstances.
“When the goal was waved off you had to wonder a little bit, but we kept working and stay focused,” he said. “As the striker, and someone who scores a lot, I felt like it was up to me to make something happen.”
And to no one’s surprise he did.
"Ryan's the kind of player that comes along every three or four years," Corona del Sol coach Dan Salas said. "A player you can't do anything about. He's just better than everyone else."
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