Lady Longhorn softball players took to the practice diamond Monday afternoon knowing they were facing one of the most crucial weeks of the campaign.
Sporting a 5-3 record in an East region race that features no unbeaten teams, the Lady Horns need victories over Alchesay today (Tuesday) and Snowflake (Friday) to remain in the hunt for a top-four finish and a berth in the state tournament.
A victory over the visiting Alchesay Falcons appears about as certain as anything can be in the topsy-turvy world of prep softball.
The last time the two teams met Feb. 27 in Payson the Lady Horns cruised to a 14-0 victory in a clash shortened to five innings on the 10-run mercy rule.
Unless the Falcons have improved, the team will not bring to the Rim country the talent to battle the Lady Horns.
A win over homestanding Snowflake could prove a much tougher task for the Lady Horns.
The Lobos enter Friday's game owning a hard-fought 4-3 road victory over Payson March 23.
In the final inning of that game, the Lady Horns staged a spirited rally that had the tying and winning runs on the base paths. However, neither scored and the Lady Horns absorbed the loss.
Friday, Snowflake will be a slim favorite to chalk up a second win mostly because the Lobos own the home-field advantage and will probably have their pitching ace, Kelly Sherwood, on the hill.
The prospect of Sherwood pitching doesn't dampen the confidence Lady Horn coach Will Dunman has in his offense.
"We have the ability to hit (off) her," he said.
In the earlier loss to the Lobos, the Lady Horns who struggled early solved the mystery of Sherwood's speedy offerings late in the game.
If the Lady Horns hitters can pick up where they left off in that contest, the team could send Sherwood packing into Lobo land.
Dunman is undecided on which of the varsity hurlers Rachel Ray, Brenna Zumbro or Tiffany Lubken he will tap for mound duties against Alchesay and Snowflake. The decision, he said, would be made at game time.
Ray a sophomore who has command of several good pitches has been the team's front-line hurler most of the season.
Included in her 7-6 record are several hard-luck losses in which she's pitched well enough to win.
One of those tough defeats was a 7-2 loss April 3 to Show Low. Although Ray gave up just two earned runs, she was saddled with the defeat after suffering a lack of defensive and offensive support.
In the field, her teammates committed six errors, many of which led to Cougar runs.
At the plate, only Brittany Boyes who contributed a triple hammered the ball with consistency.
"Brittany got the job done but we just didn't hit well," Dunman said.
Another obstacle in the Lady Horns path to victory was the eight stranded base runners. If the Lady Horns would have belted a few base hits, the win might have gone to Payson.
To be rescheduled
The Lady Horns were originally scheduled to travel to Pinnacle April 6 for a 4 p.m. East region showdown. Due to rain showers that drenched most of Arizona last week, the contest was rescheduled. Although the exact date of the makeup game hasn't been set in stone, it will most likely be played May 1, Dunman said. If so, the contest will be played after the end of the regular season and only three days before the regional tournament tips off.
If the Lady Horns do attain their goal of a top-four finish in the East and the resulting berth to state, that tournament is slated to begin May 11 in Phoenix.