A 50-36 regular-season-ending victory over Coolidge Friday evening in Wilson Dome nailed down a third-place Central finish for the Lady Longhorns basketball team (8-4 in the division).
With the bronze-medal slot, the Horns earn an advantageous home opener during the first round of the Central Division tournament. That contest will be played at 7 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, in the dome, against sixth-place Santa Cruz.
If the Horns can emerge victorious over SC -- which seems a probability since Payson handily whipped the Dust Devils in two regular season encounters -- the Rim ladies would advance to a second-round tournament game to be played Feb. 12 at Arizona Boys Ranch in Queen Creek.
The second-round contest, coach Jerry Daniels anticipates, will probably be a rematch with the Coolidge Bears.
The tournament semi-finals and finals will be played Feb. 13 at Arizona Boys Ranch.
The bottom line, Daniels said, is the Lady Horns must win two Central tournament battles to achieve a preseason goal of a berth in the state tournament.
Anything short of two wins, he said, and it's inventory time for the coaching staff and players.
However, if the Horns can muster a minimum of twin wins, the team would advance to the Class 3A state tournament Feb. 16 in Flagstaff as the division's third seed and play the West champion. The game site and time has not yet been determined.
A Central tournament runner-up finish would pit the Horns against the South's second seed. The Central champion will play West-three.
The key to the team's success in either the Central or state tournament, Daniels said, will be to maintain the defensive intensity shown in Friday's triumph over SC.
"We played great defense. That was the difference," the coach said.
Using a 2-3 zone defense, the Horns were able to slow SC's vaunted inside game and deny the Devils easy scoring opportunities.
Daniels cited the defensive efforts of Sidney Swartwood, Elizabeth Gille and Brandi Waugh.
While the defense was slowing the Devil attack, senior Stephanie Robertson was a one-woman scoring machine, finishing with a game-high 20 points.
That Robertson, Waugh, Swartwood and Gille would lead the Lady Horns to victory Friday should have come as no surprise to local fans.
Since mid-season, Gille has been doing most of the crucial ball handling at point guard and distributing the ball to Horn shooters.
In a 64-40 win over Globe Jan. 26, Robertson led the Horns with 20 points, Waugh had 15 and Swartwood 10.
Three days later in a 66-46 loss to Central champion Fountain Hills, Robertson tallied 15, Swartwood 12 and Waugh 11.
As an untested freshman, Waugh wasn't expected to make much of an impact on the varsity team this year. But by the time mid-season rolled around, her hustle and an outside scoring touch earned her starting honors at the shooting guard position.
As the campaign wore on, Daniels said, she proved capable of holding her own with more veteran opponents.