While her Highland soccer teammates stood just a couple of feet away smiling, laughing and basking in the afterglow of a hard-fought victory, Payton Armijo's eyes welled up with tears.
The sophomore forward was emotionally drained after scoring a second-half goal that lifted the Scots to a 1-0 victory over Garces in a showdown between the Southeast Yosemite League's top two teams Thursday night at Sam Tobias Field.
"We've been trying as team, not giving up, believing in each other," Armijo said. "That's the way were are. I knew they wouldn't give up on me. And I won't give up on them. And that's why we won tonight."
The right-footed Armijo took a pass from Paige Jano and then blasted a left-footed shot from 20 yards into the upper left corner of the net midway through the second half to propel Highland past the Rams, who were riding a 10-game win streak.
"That was awesome," Highland coach Tom Ferralli said in his post-game comments to his team.
The victory puts Highland (10-10-2, 6-1 SEYL) just a win tonight against Foothill away from tying Garces (14-5, 7-1 SEYL) for first place in the SEYL.
Both teams conclude the regular season with a pair of league games next week.
"This is the one that we needed to level it out and put us going in the direction of becoming (SEYL) co-champions," Ferralli said. "At least it puts us in that position given records, but it's not over. East is extremely strong and we don't count anybody out."
Highland goalkeeper Breanna Hendrix had seven saves in posting her third shutout of the season.
Hendrix, who was starting in place of an ill Samantha Abarca, spent much of the first half and all of the game's final few minutes under constant attack.
But Garces, which finished with 17 shots, including seven on goal, couldn't find the back of the net.
"We played our game," Hendrix said. "We were aggressive and we had a positive attitude. We did good."
Ferralli said he "knew Bre could do it. I have total confidence in her. Sammy is a senior, so she's been through the program. This is Bre's first year so Sammy's got the nod (as the starter). Bre backed her up spectacular...She got pummeled. She got more shots than needed to happen. But she stepped up."
Armijo's goal, her fifth of the season, was just the third allowed by the Rams in 11 games.
"As the time was ticking down I knew that there needed to be a leader to show them that we could do this," Armijo said. "And I knew that I needed to step up, and if I had the opportunity I had to take it. I believed in myself and the result showed it."
Armijo's game-winning shot was one of seven on goal by Highland. The Scots took 11 shots in total.
Garces' goal keeper Kate Hamilton, who had little chance at stopping the perfectly-placed strike by Armijo had six saves.
The Rams beat the Scots 1-0 during the first round of SEYL play.
"When you play Highland, you always play a great team," Garces coach Myka Peck said. "And tonight the better team won and it wasn't us. It's hard to swallow, but sometimes you have to clap when it's deserved."