Unlike baseball coach Teddy Pettet, Lady Horn softball coach Will Dunman never has to fret over finding a pitching ace. Whenever the Lady Horn coach needs a complete game gem, he simply turns to sophomore pitching sensation Rachel Ray.
Pettet, on the other hand, must send waves of pitchers to the mound to have any hopes of a "W."
In early season action, Ray has proven herself to be one of the most talented pitchers in the East region by hurling the team to several important victories, including a 10-0 March 28 triumph over Pinnacle.
The outing, which was shortened to five innings on the 10-run mercy rule, might have been the fireballing teenager's best showing of the 2001 campaign.
Hurling a no-hit shutout, Ray struck out seven and walked only three. Most impressively, only a handful a Pinnacle hitters were able to make contact with any of Ray's sizzling offerings.
On the south side of Lady Horn diamond where a nice-sized group of Pinnacle parents and fans sat in folding chairs a hit ball, even if foul, was cause for optimism. Simply said, Ray was overpowering.
Currently, the youngster carries a somewhat deceptive 7-5 record that would have been better had the Horn offense generated runs or the defense been more solid.
One of her hard-luck defeats was a 3-0 loss to powerful Class 4A Lake Havasu during the Pepsi-Albertson's Softball Class in Kingman.
Another heartbreaker was a 4-3 loss to Snowflake in which a base-running error in the last inning might have cost her a chance at the pitching win. In the loss, Ray gave up just five base hits.
The key to Ray's success has been her pitching speed but she's also developed a nasty drop that has given opposing hitters fits. The youngster has proven herself a superb pitcher, but she's not the only hurler at Dunman's beck and call.
For pitching prowess, he also can turn to freshman Brenna Zumbro or senior Tiffany Lubken.
Zumbro saw her first varsity action at the Kingman tournament and responded by pitching the Horns to a 4-2 triumph over River Valley. She earned another varsity start March 21 against Blue Ridge, and again turned out a commendable effort hurling the Horns to a 11-1 victory.
In five innings, Zumbro allowed just three hits and on most pitches demonstrated the control a freshman needs to keep baserunners off the paths and out of scoring position. Like Ray, Zumbro relies on her speed for outs but is working on several other pitches including a rise and drop.
Lubken also is in the pitching mix, a senior bound for Glendale College, where she'll continue her softball career. Although she hasn't seen a lot of recent action, Lubken represents more firepower in the Payson hurling arsenal.
With the trio of Ray, Zumbro and Lubken handling the mound chores, the Horns must find the offense to muster run support.
So far, much of the power in the "O" has been supplied by Brooke McRae. Few games go by in which the hard-swinging teenager doesn't swat a booming extra base hit. In the win over Pinnacle, she unleashed two triples. Against Blue Ridge days earlier, she blasted Payson's first over-the-fence home run in three seasons.
Also important to the Horn offense is the slash bunting of Raeann Burba and the consistent hitting of Lee Ann Owens, Jennifer Plumb and Brittany Boyes.
Dunman has predicted that if the Horn pitching and hitting holds up and the defense plays well the team will position itself for a berth in the season-ending state tournament
The Lady Horns continue pursuit of East regional honors and a berth in the state tournament today (Tuesday) in Show Low. Game time is 4 p.m. The Horns travel to Pinnacle Friday for a 4 p.m. clash.