But the 11th-seeded Gators showed resilience and fought to the end against the sixth-seeded Hawks, coming back for a 2-2 tie before Highland scored with 17:49 left in the match and held on for a 3-2 victory.
Xavier, which finished with a 9-7-1 record, was the two-time defending state champion. Highland (14-61) advances to the quarterfinals on Wednesday (Feb. 13) with a road contest against No. 3 seed Phoenix Desert Vista, which defeated No. 14 Anthem Boulder Creek 6-1 on Saturday.
Of her team’s effort against Highland, Xavier coach Barb Chura said, “I thought the team played really well and they fought hard. We had a lot of young players and we came a long way from where we started the season.
“Most of our younger players should be coming back next year and should be a year older, stronger and better, and they will know what to expect.’’
Highland, which defeated Xavier 1-0 in a match at Xavier on Dec. 11, nearly scored in this one with just over a minute in. The Hawks did come back and take a 1-0 lead about five minutes later.
The Hawks made it 2-0 at 26:51, scoring on a breakaway.
Junior Elizabeth Warren got the Gators on the board with 23:44 left in the half with a strong shot.
After the halftime break gave them a chance to talk things over and regroup, the Gators made it a new game when sophomore Kendall Warner tallied on a long shot that got past the Highland goalkeeper.
Xavier somehow managed to escape a Highland goal moments later in a scramble in front of the net as two Gator defenders got the ball out of trouble.
Highland prevented Xavier from taking the lead with 21:50 left when a long free kick was stopped by the goalkeeper.
At 17:49, Highland produced the game-winner. A Hawks player retrieved the ball near the right corner and dribbled the ball toward the goal along the back line as the Xavier defenders tried to get into position. The Highland player passed the ball across to the left side of the goal, where Secret McEuen was waiting and she sent a high shot just under the crossbar and into the back of the net.
The Gators tried to get the ball back down the field for a few more attempts, but time began to slip away and Highland took a deep breath before celebrating. The Hawks knew that Xavier had pushed them to the limit.