Although the Lady Longhorns couldn’t repeat as Pepsi Cola River Valley Tournament champions, the hoopsters did play well enough to return to the Rim country with a 3-2 record.
In the tournament Dec. 5, 6 and 7 at River Valley High School, the Lady Horns opened with a convincing 26-11 lead over Red Rock Sedona in the first quarter, and eventually won, 70-32.
In the second round, however, Payson dropped a 47-42 decision to Camp Verde.
The loss marked the second time this season the Lady Horns have fallen to Camp Verde. Nov. 25 in Camp Verde, Payson opened the season with a disappointing 66-52 loss to the Cowboys.
In the third round of the Pepsi shoot-out, Payson rebounded to thump Class 4A Lake Havasu 51-36. The final two games of the tournament saw Payson run past Mohave 65-49 but lose to Northwest Christian 38-35.
Following the team’s return to Payson, first-year coach Krystal Garvin praised their efforts.
“They are starting to play under control and their chemistry seems to be coming together,” she said. “Their hustle and determination continue to impress me.”
With a 4-4 season’s record, the Lady Horns will take a break from action until Dec. 17, when they take on Holbrook in Wilson Dome.
Tournament action returns Dec. 27 and 28 when Payson plays host to the Holiday Invitational to be played in Wilson Dome and old PHS gymnasium.
Senior forward Trista Carlton supplied most of Payson’s firepower during the team’s stay in River Valley.
Her 13.8 per game scoring average included a 33-point outing against Mohave.
With her teammates feeding her the ball down low, Carlton was able to power her way inside for layups and short jumpers.
Carlton also scored off turnovers created by Payson’s highly effective 1-3-1 half-court press. When Carlton was fouled on the steal or dribble drive, she responded by hitting nine of 10 free throws.
“She had an outstanding game. She needed that,” Garvin said.
In the tournament loss to Northwest Christian, Carlton was the only Payson player to score in double figures. She finished with 12 points.
The Lady Horns also received a solid effort from sophomore forward Kody Kepp.
Against Sedona, Kepp who is in her first year of varsity play crashed the boards for a game-high 17 points.
Fellow sophomore Krystal McRae chipped in with 12.
One of the most consistent offensive performances during the three-day stay was posted by Ashli Herrera.
In the first four games, Herrera scored 11, 10, 11 and 14 points respectively before being held to just three by the Northwest Christian defense.
If the Lady Horns have a facet of the game they might want to improve upon before East region play begins, it is three-point shooting.
In the tournament, Payson cashed in on only five three-balls. A trio of those came in the first half of the win over Lake Havasu when Autumn Herrera, Haylee Huff and Tanya Davis hit super shots.
“Our shooting percentage is low but it’s our defense that creates our offense,” Garvin said. “We have got to press and pressure the ball (to get turnovers and open shots).”
In addition to working on pressing and shooting, Garvin will probably stress improved free-throw shooting in upcoming practice sessions. The Lady Horns 44-for-77 effort from the line was an acceptable mark for the early season. As the campaign wears on however, the Lady Horns will want to push their 57-percent average closer to 70 percent.
The Lady Horns, however, have had two games in which they were prolific from the line. Against Mohave, the team finished 15 for 20. In the tournament loss to Camp Verde, the Lady Horns were 10-for-16.
“Our free-throw percentages are inconsistent,” Garvin said.
Another practice goal for Payson should the team meet Camp Verde again this year is to find a defensive scheme to stop Amy Showers. In the tournament win over the Lady Horns, Showers scored a game-high 22 points including two three-pointers.
Showers scored another three-pointer and finished with 18 points in the season-opening win over Payson.
“The girls have to be aware of her hiding out on the weak side baseline,” Garvin said. “They swing the ball and she has such a quick shot off the pass, we have to jump to the ball.”
The sharpshooter is the daughter of Camp Verde girls hoop coach Ben Showers.