In past years, the clash against the Eloy Santa Cruz Dust Devils (today, 7:30 p.m. in Wilson dome) would have been a crucial Central division showdown for the Lady Longhorn basketball team.
But the contest has been rendered little more than a tune-up for a Payson team that is now housed in the East division due to last spring's Arizona Interscholastic Association realignment.
In the revamping of the 3A conference where both Payson and Eloy toil, the Central was disbanded, Eloy sent to the South and Payson to the East.
The shift means Lady Horn coach Jerry Daniels can use the game against Santa Cruz as one final assessment before the team jumps horns-first into East hardwood warfare at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Whiteriver against Alchesay.
If the results of a season-opening 49-42 win over Fountain Hills Nov. 30 are any indication, Daniels might be heading a team that features the one intangible all coaches hope for -- a refusal to quit.
After building a 12-point lead early in the fourth quarter, the Lady Horns stumbled in the final going allowing Fountain to tie up the contest 40-40.
At that crucial point, the team was faced with two options, one of which was to belly-up and allow the Falcons to swoop to a victory.
But instead, the team responded to the adversity by stepping up their tenacity offensively and defensively.
After admiring his team's gutsy effort in the final minutes, Daniels said, "they showed a lot of character in not quitting."
The coach also praised the defensive contributions of Brandi Waugh and Lee Ann Owens who handcuffed FH ace Grace Tappe to "just" 11 points.
Entering the game, the veteran members of the Lady Horns were all too aware of Tappe's abilities. Last season, she was a double-digit scorer who was voted the Central's player of the year.
"Brandi and Lee Ann did a great job on her," Daniels said.
In addition to her defensive prowess, Waugh -- a forward -- was a solid contributor on the offense end of the court finishing with 11 points.
Starting guard Jennifer Plumb -- a sophomore who picked up considerable playing time last season -- contributed 11 to the Horn cause.
Junior Rheanna Martinez, the game's co-captain along with Waugh, tallied nine points and kept Payson in contention with a strong rebounding effort.
Also scoring were Kaitlin Wilkins (8), Ashli Herrera (6) and Owens (4).