After watching his Lady Longhorns commit a whopping 40 turnovers in its opening two games of the 1998-99 season, coach Jerry Daniels spent the practice week intent on improving the ball handling and passing skills of his charges.
Daniels had the opportunity to learn first-hand if the practice time paid dividends last night (Dec. 3) in the River Valley Tournament played at 9 p.m., in River Valley and Needles, Ca. high schools.
In the first round game (results not available at press time), the Lady Horns were pitted against Parker High School.
A victory propelled Payson into a second round match at 7:30 p.m. this evening, (Dec. 4) against the winner of River Valley vs. Sedona.
A loss dropped the Horns into a loser's bracket game at 9 p.m. this evening against the loser of River Valley vs. Sedona.
Action in the 16-team double-elimination tournament continues all day Saturday and culminates with the championship finale at 9 p.m.
The Lady Horns are the only Central Division team entered in the two-state hardwood shoot-out.
The bracket the Horns are participating in also includes Yuma, Bagdad, Lake Havasu and Hopi.
In the other bracket are Mohave, Bradshaw Mountain, Needles, Palo Verde, Meadows, Cibola, Snowflake and Chinle.
Regular season openers
The Lady Horns, who are the defending Central Division champions, tipped off the 1998-99 campaign Nov. 23 in Wilson dome with a 58-57 win over East representative Show Low.
One day later in the Round Valley High School dome in Eagar, the Lady Horns were blistered by the RV Lady Elks 47-38.
Following the loss to Round Valley, Daniels said his charges were tired and emotionally drained because of the Show Low game.
Also, the tiring 3 1/2-hour bus journey to Eagar/Springerville on a school night did not help, he said.
Round Valley jumped out to an early 17-7 lead and expanded it to 28-13 at halftime. Payson closed the margin to 32-22 in the opening moments of the final stanza but couldn't pull closer.
Poor free-throw shooting in which the Horns hit only 12 of their 26 attempts slowed the Horns' offensive attack as it attempted to make up for the early deficit.
Sophomore Rheanna Martinez led all scorers with 14 points. Stephanie Robertson, a senior finished with 12 points but struggled at the line missing her first six charity tosses before sinking her final two.
Jenny Randall contributed five points and Sidney Swartwood had three. Freshman Jennifer Plumb and Jamie Peace and two each.
Another slow first quarter
Falling behind early in the game was the norm for the Lady Horns in the openers.
Like they did one day later in Eagar, the Horns stumbled out of the starting gate and fell behind Show Low 26-6.
The Horns put on a vicious rally that Daniels called "one of the greatest comebacks I have ever seen, it was an exciting finish."
Trailing by 20 points early in the second quarter, Robertson almost single-handily pulled the Lady Horns back into contention by scoring 10 points before the half-time buzzer sounded.
Still down 36-25, the Lady Horns exchanged baskets with the Cougars throughout most of the third stanza.
Entering the final quarter, Show Low was clinging to a 51-41 lead. Another spirited rally -- similar to the one staged in the second quarter -- pulled the Lady Horns into a late tie and finally over the hump to a one-point victory.
During the late run, Payson hit 11 of the 16 charity tosses awarded them by referees Ted Pettet and Tim Fruth. The team finished 18 of 25 from the line.
Robertson fueled the win with a game-high 27 points. Martinez had 14, Swartwood nine, Plumb six and Elizabeth Gille two.