The naming of six Lady Longhorns to All-East region honors was a deserving tribute to an exceptional group of young athletes, Payson High coach Will Dunman said.
In a voting of East coaches at the conclusion of the regular season, Rachel Ray and Brooke McRae were selected to the East first team. On the second team were Raeann Burba and Jennifer Plumb. Honorable Mention accolades were doled out to Trista Carlton and Brenna Zumbro.
All six are underclassmen and will return to the Horn fold next season.
"With them coming back, we're looking forward to next season," Dunman said.
Along with the selection of the PHS players to the East star team, Dunman was named the East's coach of the year. He was recognized, in part, for leading the Lady Horns to a regional third-place finish and into the second round of state tournament.
As a first team selection, Ray attained an honor usually reserved for junior and senior softball veterans. Only a sophomore, Ray has become one of the state's most promising young pitchers, with several impressive outings. Her role as Payson's front-line hurler ended abruptly late in the season when a hand injury relegated her to the bench.
She attempted to return to the lineup for the state tournament, but pitched only two innings before the injury flared up.
According to Dunman, the most impressive achievement of the young hurler was her ability to throw strikes.
"She threw 971 strikes and only 604 balls. That's what I want from our pitchers," he said.
Next season, Ray and Zumbro who took over as the ace pitcher after Ray's injury will anchor the Lady Longhorn pitching staff.
McRae also joins the two in the Lady Horns' cause.
Last season as a junior, she held down the short stop position where she handled most of the defensive opportunities and finished with an .814 fielding average.
As the season wore on, McRae showed remarkable defensive improvement, Dunman said.
Offensively, she led the team in hitting with a .393 average that included a booming home run over the left center fence at Payson High School field. Her circuit swat was only the second over-the-fence home run ever hit at the field.
In selecting Burba to the second team, coaches acknowledged contributions that often go unnoticed. Her mission as the team's leadoff hitter was to get on base and into scoring position before the meat of the order came to the plate.
By drawing walks and slap bunting, Burba worked herself on at first where she was in position to become a scoring threat. Next season, Dunman is going to ask Burba to learn yet another softball skill the push bunt.
"That will give us another weapon," he said.
Plumb was one of the Longhorns' most consistent infielders. Playing mostly second base, she maintained a .919 fielding average that included several nifty double players she helped turn.
According to Dunman, her hustle style of play probably helped influence coaches in selecting her to the star team.
In a 5-0 second round state tournament loss to Chandler Seton, Plumb slapped the Horns only two base hits of the game both singles.
As an East honorable mention athlete, Carlton was acknowledged for her defensive contributions behind the plate.
The Horns' first team catcher all season, her responsibilities included calling most of the pitches and taking command of her battery mates.
"She did an excellent job of that. She was invaluable even though it was her first year (on varsity)," Dunman said.
Also an HM designee, Zumbro turned into a pleasant surprise after Ray was injured.
Compiling a 10-2 record and a .333 batting average, the freshman star posed a threat on the mound and at the plate.
As the region's coach of the year, Dunman led the Lady Horns into the state tournament for the second consecutive season.
The campaign, he said, "was a fun one ... we worked hard on all three levels (varsity, jayvee and freshman) but had a good time."
A graduate of Northern Arizona University and now a special education teacher at Julia Randall Elementary School, Dunman began his Payson coaching career three years ago as a combination junior varsity and freshman coach under Greg Larkins.
Among his future goals, he said, is to continue to lead the Lady Horns into the state tournament.
With two stellar pitchers and his entire lineup returning intact, the coach says the team has the potential to play deeper into the tournament than ever before.