Pitted against 19 top-notch teams in the Payson Holiday Hoops Tournament, the Lady Longhorns played their way to a 4-1 record and a third-place finish.
First-year coach Krystal Garvin praised the players' efforts in the two-day fray.
"We have such a young team, but they went in and played hard," she said. "They showed no fear."
The Lady Horns opened the tournament Dec. 27 in Wilson Dome by shellacking Tucson Canyon del Oro 71-23. In the second round, Payson rallied in the fourth quarter for a 66-62 win over Globe. Pitted against defending state champion Tuba City in the third round, Payson suffered its only loss of the tournament, 56-49.
The defeat dropped the Lady Longhorns into the third-place game against Class 2A Joseph City. After building a 36-27 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Lady Horns survived a late scare to nip Joseph City 49-47.
In the championship game, the Round Valley Elks edged out Tuba City for the tournament championship.
Following the hardwood showdown, coaches selected 13 players to the all-tournament team.
From Payson, Haylee Huff and Ashli Herrera were chosen. Ashton LeSeur of Round Valley was named the tournament's most valuable player. Also chosen to the all-tournament team from Round Valley was former Lady Longhorn standout Whitney Hardt.
On the road to three wins
In the opening-round win over Rough Rock, a small community on the northern Arizona Navajo reservation, Trista Carlton and Ashli Herrera hooked up to lead the Horns to the easy victory.
Carlton finished with a game-high 20 points and Herrera had 18. The pair's offense helped Payson jump to an early 18-1 lead and expand it to 42-11 at halftime.
Against Globe, Herrera once again had the hot hand with 28 points.
For the Tigers, Brandi Steinke's 31 points kept Globe in contention throughout the game. In the fourth quarter, with Steinke saddled with four fouls, Garvin opted for a strategy of having Ashli Herrera challenge the Tiger star with each possession. The coach hoped Herrera, or a teammate, could force the fifth foul on the Tiger star.
Although Steinke, who was playing the low post, was never ticketed for the final foul, she did have to tone down her defense. That allowed Ashli Herrera and her teammates more scoring opportunities.
Against Tuba City, the Lady Horns fell behind 29-16 at halftime, but roared back to outscore the defending champs 33-27 in the second half.
The game might have gone in Payson's favor had it not been for a less than stellar defensive effort, Garvin said.
"We gave them too many lanes (to the basket). They got those layups and bunnies," she said.
In the bronze-medal clash, a well-rounded scoring effort led by Carlton allowed the Lady Horns to overcome a dismal night from the line in which Payson cashed in on only 17 of 31 free throws.
Carlton led Payson in scoring with 12 points. Haylee Huff contributed 11 and Ashli Herrera had eight. Krystal McRae and Tanya Davis finished with seven each.
Following the tournament, Garvin said the play of the four small-school teams -- Round Valley, Tuba City, Joseph City and Payson -- was exceptional.
"I think it's remarkable what the small schools did against some of the better big schools," she said.
Of the 19 teams entered in the tournament, none of the 11 class 4A and 5A teams reached the final four.
The Lady Horns returned to the dome Monday morning for open gym sessions. The team will use the sessions to prepare for a rematch against Tuba City Saturday, Jan. 4 in Wilson Dome. Game time is 6 p.m.