The East region league lead will be at stake this evening (Tuesday) when the Lady Longhorns play host to the Snowflake Lobos. Tip off is 6 p.m. in Wilson Dome.
Both teams enter the crucial showdown sporting 4-1 East records. Also at 4-1, the Round Valley Elks are tied with the Horns and Lobos for the East lead.
Although Payson and Snowflake boast identical East records, the Lobos are the favorites in tonight's clash, mostly because they own a 71-45 win over the Lady Horns.
In that Lobo win Jan. 11 in Snowflake the Lady Horns suffered through what coach Shaun Hardt called "our worst game of the season."
Numerous Payson turnovers early in the game allowed the Lobos to jump out to a lead the Lady Horns could never recover.
Hardt said he is confident that tonight's game won't turn into a repeat of the maladies the Lady Horns suffered in the first go-around against the Lobos.
The good news for the Lady Horns is that they will take to the Wilson Dome floor fresh off a pair of convincing wins over Blue Ridge and Show Low. Those victories, coupled with Round Valley's surprising upset over Snowflake, lifted the Horns to a deadknot for the East lead.
Friday in Lakeside, the Lady Horns slipped by the Yellow Jackets 54-41. The following evening in Show Low, Payson ran roughshod, 47-12, over a hopelessly outmanned Cougar team.
Against Show Low, the Horns ran out to a 30-2 halftime cushion which allowed Hardt to liberally substitute a crew of freshman and jayvee players he had brought along on the White Mountain trip.
Freshman Tanya Davis, in her first varsity action, finished with eight points.
Britney Owens, normally a jayvee team member, led the Horns in rebounding, corralling eight missed shots.
Although the underclassmen did much of the damage against Show Low, the team's leading scorer, Brandi Waugh, managed to finish with a game-high 19 points. Most of Waugh's scoring came in the first half barrage.
In the triumph over homestanding Blue Ridge, the Lady Horns had to survive without several starters whose playing time was limited by fouls.
Haylee Huff, Brooke McRae, Ashli Herrera and Waugh all played much of the game saddled with four fouls.
The team roster was further depleted when the Horns lost the services of Michelle Closs when she suffered a broken finger in pregame warmups. Because the injury is on the middle finger of her right and shooting hand, Hardt is uncertain of when she can return to duty.
With the team's effectiveness limited by foul trouble and the injury, sophomore point guard Whitney Hardt stepped up to lead the offense with 14 points.
In addition to contributing 12 points, Trista Carlton led the Horns in rebounding with nine.
Following tonight's game against Snowflake, the Lady Horns return to East region action at 6 p.m. Friday in Round Valley.
Victories in those two games would almost guarantee the Lady Horns the East region championship and a No. 1 seed into the state tournament.