Mankato East couldn't have drawn up a better second-half surge.
Brandon Sloniker fired an open shot from 18 yards out. Amin Daees pulled off a pretty bicycle kick from close range. Ben Schwartz had a chance on a scramble near the right goal post.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, they couldn't convert any of those opportunities into goals, and they lost their first game of the season. Rochester Mayo won the Big Nine Conference 1-0 at the Anderson fields.
"Coach, at halftime, told us to keep taking shots," said Sloniker, whose shot off the crossbar was one of three near misses for the sophomore attacker. "We were down and had to play a lot harder."
On Daees' athletic play, which followed some impressive dribbling and passing by teammate Ricky Cano-Hernandez with about 15 minutes remaining in the game, Mayo goalkeeper Alex Sedarski got a piece of the shot, and it caromed off the crossbar. Schwartz had a chance at the rebound but Sedarski gobbled up the loose ball. With just under 10 minutes to play, Sloniker's shot rattled the goal structure.
Sedarski ended up making 12 saves.
"It was very frustrating," East coach Jerrad Aspelund said. "We had them on their heels in the first 15, 20 minutes of the game. But they got the first goal, and we could not capitalize. Give them credit; they earned it fair and square. That was a beautiful ball they put in."
The Spartans scored the game's lone goal with 21:10 remaining in the first half. Liam Reid Hathaway scored it, getting off a shot with three defenders around him and beating goalkeeper Nick Olson with a crossing shot at the lower left-hand corner. Jonny Loera, who gave the Cougars fits for much of the first half with his quick feet and precision passing set up the shot with perfect through ball.
Sloniker had two good chances for the equalizer before halftime. His header off a free kick went just wide, and he fired another 18-footer that drifted a bit too far over the top of the goal.
"We were a bit unlucky," Aspelund said. "We had our chances and didn't finish."
East held Mayo to just four shots on goal. Olson finished with three saves. Olson got some help from his defense, too. Nathan Dreyer kept it a one-goal game with some nifty one-on-one play against Loera late in the half.
"We always talk about keeping each other's heads up," Sloniker said. "Last year, we had eight losses and got to state. I don't think this will affect us."
The Cougars (4-1-2, 2-1-1 in the Big Nine) will host fourth-ranked Totino-Grace at 5 p.m. Thursday.