The Payson High School girls varsity basketball team was busy on the road last week downing the Chino Valley Cougars 47-44 as well as Blue Ridge 47-31. Friday night, however, the girls suffered their first regular season loss to Snowflake, 72-47.
Despite the holiday break from class, they now have their sights set on the Payson Invitational Tournament coming up this Thursday and Friday in the PHS Dome.
The Lady Horns came out strong in Chino Valley nearly doubling their opponents score as the first period buzzer sounded by a score of 17-9. In the second period, they had their work cut out for them as the Cougars outscored Payson 20 to 8. As the girls hit the locker room at halftime, Chino held the lead 29-25.
Little changed in the third period as the scoring remained close but the physical aggressiveness and intensity began to increase. At the close of the period, Payson had been outscored again 8-6 bringing the score to 31-37.
In the final stanza, the tables turned.
"Brandi Waugh stepped up offensively and defensively," coach Shawn Hardt said.
Waugh was the teams' second leading scorer with 12 points in the game demonstrating her aggressiveness offensively. She also tallied five personal fouls.
Waugh wasn't the only Longhorn who wanted the win.
"Trista Carlton stepped up offensively and defensively and April Cheek also stepped up at a crucial time in the game," Hardt said.
The Horns went on to outscore the Cougars 16-7 in the final period capturing the win 47-44.
"The girls did well, even though they were behind most of the game," Hardt said. "They really battled and never gave up. They haven't given up all season."
Payson's point leader was once again Reanna Martinez, who turned in 16 points on the evening. Jennifer Plumb had 8 points and was a dominating defensive force with five personal fouls.
"This game was a war and our girls came out on top. I'm really proud of them," Hardt said.
Blue Ridge bashin'
Thursday night, the Lady Horns traveled to Blue Ridge where they again extended their winning streak.
"Trista Carlton really stepped up and played a good game and scored 11 points and she's only a sophomore," Hardt said. "She really helped defensively and was really a key to the win."
Payson was preparing for quite a heated battle as Blue Ridge had beaten Alchesay the night before and had a close game with Snowflake raising expectation they would be a tough opponent.
Payson remained the lead scorer throughout the first quarter, and finished the half with a slim 19-16 lead.
In the second half Payson stretched out their lead and finished the third period with a score of 31-22 and dominated even more in the fourth period, finishing the game with a score of 47-31.
"Our girls really impressed me. They never give up and even if they make mistakes, they don't let it destroy them," Hardt said.
Reanna Martinez was the Horns top scorer with 17 points, Trista Carlton had 11 and Brandi Waugh scored 8.
The Lady Horns then headed to Snowflake Friday night in a competition they had been anticipating since early in the season.
"This was our most important game by far this season," Hardt said.
Payson, Snowflake and Round Valley were all undefeated going into this game and tied for first place. The loser of this game would be dropped to second place in the current standings a title neither was willing to take without a fight.
The first period looked as evenly matched as their standings with the score 10-9 Snowflake as the buzzer blew. In the second period the Horns began to stumble with numerous turnovers, scoring only 8 points compared to the 26 that the Lobos tallied.
At halftime, the score was 36-17 with Snowflake holding a commanding lead.
The Horns also experienced a tough third period with more turnovers while Snowflake seemed like they couldn't miss the hoop.
"Snowflake shot the ball real good from outside and everywhere," Hardt said. When Payson hit the bench at the end of the third period, it was once again gut-check time.
"Even after the game people were saying to us, 'Man you really played hard,'" Hardt said. "Reanna Martinez really played hard and it was probably one of her best games."
Martinez scored a team leading 22 points in the game followed by Ashley Herrera with 8.
Despite determined play, the Horns were not able to catch the Lobos and at the final buzzer, Snowflake walked away with the decisive win 72-47.
"We had a lot of turnovers in the 2nd and 3rd quarters and that's the only thing that beat us," Hardt said. "We left that game knowing we're just as good as they are, but we just threw the ball away. I think we'll beat them when we play them here at home."
The Lady Horns now prepare for the Payson Invitational Tournament this Thursday and Friday at the PHS dome. Twelve teams from around the state will participate in the event which is sponsored by the Mogollon Sporting Association. The association of local hunters and outdoor enthusiasts put up $1,500 which pays for the majority of the $1,900 price tag for officials working the two-day tournament.
Organizers of the tournament, which is open to the public, promise thrill-packed action for spectators and a great chance for Payson to hone their skills in preparation for their attempt to regain first place in the 3A East.