The dreams and aspirations of the Lady Longhorn softball team to earn a berth into the state tournament have been fulfilled.
By virtue of a 9-5 East record and a third-place finish in the region, the team advances to the big show Friday at Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix.
The 16-team tournament bracketing has Payson pitted against the North Region's two-seed in a 1 p.m. clash.
Payson will take on Monument Valley in a 1 p.m. clash.
If the Lady Horns can win Friday's state first-round game, the team will advance to a 10 a.m. contest the following day against the winner of the West No. 1 vs. South No. 4 tournament opener.
A victory there would propel Payson into the state quarterfinals May 11, also at Rose Mofford Complex.
Also representing the East in the state showdown will be league champion and one-seeded Show Low (12-2), runner-up Snowflake (11-3) and fourth-seeded Holbrook (8-6).
In the first round, Show Low plays North-four, Snowflake takes on North-three and Holbrook challenges the North champion.
Lady Horn coach Will Dunman who guided the his team to the state tournament last season predicts his young team has the potential to play its way deep into the tournament. But to do so, he said, the team must string together flawless play offensively and defensively.
"We have to limit our mistakes," he said.
Drop a heartbreaker
The Lady Horns wrapped up the spring campaign Friday afternoon on PHS field by dropping a 2-0 extra inning nail-biter to Show Low.
Through most of the heated contest, freshman pitcher Brenna Zumbro matched Show Low sophomore hurler Bobbi Joe Merrill pitch for pitch.
But in the top of the 12th, the Cougars sandwiched two base hits around a Horn error to score what eventually proved to be the winning runs.
In the bottom of the frame, Jennifer Plumb's double and a base-on-balls fueled Lady Horns' hopes for a game-winning rally. Much to the chagrin of Payson fans, Merrill pitched her way out of the jam, getting the final out on a ground ball to first.
"The game was a pitching duel, no doubt about that," Dunman said. "Both (Zumbro and Merrill) pitched well."
Plumb's hit was one of only three by the Lady Longhorns. The others were singles off the bats of Raeann Burba and Laura Crabtree.
Payson had runners in scoring position in the bottoms of the third and fourth innings but could never get the clutch base hit needed to push the runs across the plate.
Find silver in Page
One of the highlights of the Lady Horns' 19-9 season was a second-place finish at the Page Invitational Tournament held April 19, 20 and 21.
The Lady Horns opened the tournament with a 15-0 win over Hurricane Lake, Utah. Zumbro picked up the pitching win and finished two-for-four at the plate.
According to Dunman, the Payson players hit the ball well, but also benefited from 11 Hurricane Lake errors.
In tournament second-round action, sophomore Rachel Rae pitched Payson to a 7-2 win over a determined Joseph City squad.
"They had a tough little team with a good pitcher," Dunman said.
The game was scoreless through four innings before Payson touched the JC hurler for six runs in the fifth inning.
Third-round action saw the Lady Horns pound tournament host Page, 12-0.
In the championship contest played in cold, windy conditions the Lady Horns fell 8-0 to Class 5A Glendale Apollo.
The experience of playing in the three-day tournament, Dunman said, helped prepare his team for the rigors of the state championship.