With a 4-2 East record (10-5 overall) and several crucial regional showdowns on the horizon, the Lady Longhorn softball express is steaming toward what coach Will Dunman predicts will be a 3A state tournament bid.
"I have a lot of confidence in these girls. We have the potential to finish up (the regular season) strong and go (to state)," he said.
After dropping a heartbreaking 4-3 decision to East regional powerhouse Snowflake Friday, the Lady Horns will try to regain their winning form tomorrow (Wednesday) against Pinnacle. Game time is 3:30 p.m. on the PHS diamond.
Because the school is new and in its first year of prep sports competition, Pinnacle is an unknown in the state's sports circles.
Although the school proved to be a pushover in wrestling and basketball, Dunman anticipates Pinnacle will field a competitive softball crew.
"I've heard they have decent pitching and they've '(10)-run ruled' some teams this year," he said.
The coach is unsure of which of his trio of varsity hurlers Rachel Ray, Brenna Zumbro or Tiffany Lubken will draw the starting pitching assignment against Pinnacle.
"That (decision) might be made just before game time," he said.
If he opts for Ray, he'll be unleashing a sophomore flame-thrower who has developed a nasty drop pitch that's been the bane of many East hitters.
Although she absorbed the loss to Snowflake, Ray was rock solid on the mound giving up just five hits and three earned runs.
The Horns might have come away with a victory for Ray had they not run their way out of a last gasp seventh inning rally.
Trailing 4-0 entering their last at bats, the Horns closed the count to 4-3 thanks to some well executed slash bunts and a handful of Lobo miscues.
"We were showing bunt, then punching the ball into play," Dunman said.
With two outs, however, PHS baserunner LeeAnn Owens the potential tying run tried to score on a base hit to left and was tagged out trying to return to third.
"We might have been too aggressive, but we'd been behind the whole game," Dunman said.
Following the disappointing defeat, the coach cited the defensive play of center fielder Raeann Burba and Owens' hitting as Lady Horn highlights. Burba, he said, made several good plays in the outfield including a diving catch of a short fly ball. Owens, who also plays a very steady first base, contributed two singles in three appearances at the plate.
In summing up a loss in which the Horn offense was held to just seven hits, Dunman said, "we played a good game. We did what we had to do except at the plate."
The Payson squad will have the opportunity to avenge the defeat April 13 when the Horns travel to Lobo land for a 4 p.m. clash.
It's a ways down the schedule, but the outcome of that diamond battle could have huge consequences in determining the East's top four regular finishers and the resulting berths into the state tournament.
Only two days before the loss to the Lobos, the Horns rode freshman Zumbro's outstanding pitching to an 11-1 victory over the visiting Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.
During Zumbro's stint on the mound which was shortened to five innings on the 10-run mercy rule she gave up just three hits.
Most Jacket batters, frustrated by Zumbro's fast ball, change up and breaking ball, could never solve the mystery of her offerings. Those who could usually only dinked the ball to eagerly awaiting Lady Horn infielders.
Pitching since she was in sixth grade, Zumbro says she is currently working on developing a rise and drop pitch that should make her even more formidable.
The game got off to a roaring start when in first inning action Brooke McRae blasted a Jacket hurling offering over the outfield fence.
The last Lady Horn player to record an over-the-fence home run on PHS diamond was Molly Hunt in 1998. Hunt now plays for the Eastern Arizona College Gila Monsters in Thatcher.