The Phoenix girls soccer team went from playing on its heels in the first half to aggressively seizing an opportunity for the playoffs Tuesday at St. Mary's.

The Phoenix girls soccer team went from playing on its heels in the first half to aggressively seizing an opportunity for the playoffs Tuesday at St. Mary's.

The Pirates, behind a late free kick goal from Carlee Storey, defeated the Crusaders 1-0 in a District 6 play-in game to decide the conference's third seed into the state playoffs. It's just the second trip to state for the Phoenix program in the last 20 years.

"This was a phenomenal win," Phoenix coach Jerry North said. "I can't tell you how proud I am. I'm just elated.

"We set a goal at the beginning of the year that we wanted to make the playoffs. We didn't care whether we won the district or not. Now I just hope the girls aren't satisfied with just making it. I've told them all year that when they play like this, I don't think there's anybody who can beat them."

Phoenix certainly took the difficult route. After going 4-8 during the regular season, Phoenix, which finished tied for fourth in the District 6 with Henley, had to defeat Henley and third-place St. Mary's to reach the playoffs. Both Henley and St. Mary's defeated the Pirates twice in the season.

But the Pirates overcame the odds and now will meet Junction City, the third seed from District 5, in the first round of the state playoffs on Saturday.

"It's tough because we finished league 9-3 and they were 4-8," St. Mary's coach Dave Potter said. "They got a crack at us and they made good on it. Phoenix is a skilled team. I don't think they played up to their potential most of the season. But they obviously put it together at the right time of the season. We tip our hat to them."

Phoenix, coming off a 2-1 win against Henley, looked overmatched against St. Mary's speed in the first half and was outshot 8-0.

The Crusaders, who defeated Phoenix 2-1 in overtime and 3-0 during the regular season, had three shots on goal, including a rebound shot by Mackenzie Kreiser that sailed too high and a breakaway one-on-one opportunity for Carlie Irvine that was denied on a diving save from sophomore keeper Kourtney Scoggins.

Scoggins and the Phoenix defense breathed a sigh of relief with a 0-0 tie at halftime.

Phoenix went with a quicker front line in the second half and the move paid dividends. The Pirates managed three golden opportunities, the best coming on a cross by Megan Burr. The ball went untouched in the box until Storey, with a wide open goal, attempted to head the ball in but hit it off the crossbar instead.

Storey, who had both goals against Henley, made up for the miscue when she lobbed a free kick from about 20 yards out into the far left side of the net to notch the only score of the game in the 34th minute.

"I've never felt that way about scoring a goal before," Storey, a junior, said. "It was amazing."

Phoenix managed four shots on goal in the second half, while St. Mary's again had eight.

"This is the nature of sports," Potter said. "There are no guarantees. As long as you let an opponent hang around, things can go this way."

Reach reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail landrews@mailtribune.com