In their quest to find a worthy opponent, the Payson High girls basketball teams hit the home hardwood Tuesday night against longtime 3A North rival, the Holbrook Roadrunners. The Roadrunners offered that challenge in a corker that ended with a final score of Payson, 35, Holbrook, 30.
The varsity girls went into the game with an undefeated regular season record and only two losses in tournament play. They brought to the game the confidence gained from their previous shellacking of a young Pinnacle team which ended in a final score of 84-4.
The Roadrunners were the first to find the hoop and held their lead throughout the first period which ended with Holbrook up by two at 9-7. The Roadrunners found success in penetrating the Longhorn paint, but struggled with Payson's full-court press.
Holbrook had one player who was forced by injury to leave the game temporarily when she was leveled by Payson during a break-away lay-up attempt.
In the second period, Payson fought to gain a slight lead at 11-9, but struggled with the Roadrunners who repeatedly got the ball down low and scored. By the end of the first half, Holbrook was once again on top with a score of 19-15.
"We had a little gut check there early on because they worked us pretty good on man defense that forced us to make some adjustments," coach Shawn Hardt said. "I told them at halftime they were going to need to come out and scrap if they really wanted the win."
And scrap they did and it paid off in the second half. The Roadrunners found success in setting picks that stopped Payson in their tracks early in the game. "Samantha Ellsworth made some good adjustments and ended up getting around the other side of the picks and we switched into our press and our zone and from then on we started getting gradually better," the coach said.
The Longhorn press caused Holbrook's fast break to completely fall apart. Numerous down-court passes were picked off by Payson. "They really hustled and they stole a lot of balls. They lost a lot, too, but they stole more than they lost. I'm really proud of them," Hardt said.
Payson tied it up at 19 and then flexed its collective muscle. By the end of the third period, Payson was ahead 25-19. Despite a constant struggle with Payson's press, the Roadrunners played tough and battled back to within two at 29-27 when Payson called a timeout. Strategy during the final seconds sent both teams to the foul lines. Once again in the final seconds, Jennifer Plumb went to the foul line to throw up two perfect shots leading the Horns to the 35-30 win.
"We made it a goal to peak at three quarters of the way through the season and be ready, and hopefully we're getting there," Hardt said. "Now we have a week off to practice before some tough games next week and that's what we need," he said.