The Lady Longhorn softball team advanced to the final four of the state softball tournament Friday, May 10, following wins over Camp Verde, 10-0, and Winslow, 9-3, last weekend in Phoenix.
Payson has never advanced to semi-final play in softball. The Lady Horns also are the only team from the 3A East region that survived to battle for the title of state champion.
Show Low, 3A East Region Champion, won its first round against Wickenburg (No. 4 from the West), 20-3, and then lost in the second round to Wilcox (No. 3 from the South), 3-2.
Snowflake (No. 3 from the East) also had a first-round victory over River Valley (No. 2 from the West), 9-5, however, was knocked out of the tournament by Seton Catholic (No. 1 from the South) 10-0, Saturday morning. Round Valley, the No. 4 seed from the East, was defeated in first-round play by Fountain Hills (No. 1 out of the West), 10-6.
Payson's offense and defense proved to be too much for the Camp Verde Cowboys in the first round Friday, May 3 at the Rose Mofford Softball complex.
Coaches Will Dunman and Kadi Tenney opted to play the "short game" against Camp Verde. They led off the top of their lineup with a bunt and run offense that proved to be too much for the Cowboy's defense.
Payson scored two of their 10 runs in the bottom of the first inning when LeeAnn Owens led off with a bunt single, followed by Brandi Waugh. Both girls stole second and third bases which put them in scoring position.
Doni Miotto hit for a bunt single that scored Owens. Waugh advanced to third and scored when Laura Crabtree hit the ball on the infield to the Cowboys' shortstop, forcing an error.
In the second inning, Payson scored an additional two runs. With one out, Trista Carlton hit into a fielder's choice for the second out of the inning. Carlton then stole second base and was driven home by Owens' double to left field. Waugh followed with her second single of the day, a line drive to center field that scored Owens.
Payson's bats were silent in the third inning, however, they came back alive in the fourth.
Britney Boyes led off the inning with a single that was booted by the Cowboys' center fielder allowing Boyes to advance to second base. Brenna Zumbro followed with a single that advanced Boyes to third. Both Zumbro and Boyes scored on a double by Carlton that was mishandled by the Cowboys' right fielder, allowing Carlton to take third. Carlton scored on a sacrifice fly to left field by Waugh.
Payson clinched the game in the bottom of the fifth inning when Staci Scholl led off with a single, advanced to second on a Crabtree hit that was mishandled by the Cowboy infield. With no outs, Crabtree and Scholl advanced to second and third on a passed ball by the Cowboys' catcher.
Brooke McRae came to the plate and with a full count, drove the ball over the pitcher's head for a hard line drive single that not only scored Scholl and Crabtree, it brought McRae home when the center fielder misplayed the ball.
Payson brought the game to an end on the 10-run mercy rule.
Zumbro earned the win on the mound after throwing a no-hitter shut out. Zumbro faced 22 batters, struck out seven, walked two, hit two and virtually relied on her team's defense for the remainder of the battery. Camp Verde could not get their bats around quick enough to hit off Zumbro and when they did get a bat on the ball, it was hit to the right side of the infield and quickly taken care of by Zumbro or Payson's second baseman, Jennifer Plumb.
"The girls were unbelievable offensively," Coach Dunman said. "They did exactly what they were supposed to do. They played strong and capitalized on the weaknesses of the other team."
Payson advanced to second-round play Saturday, against Winslow at 10 a.m. Winslow, who had beaten Safford, 7-5, Friday was the No. 1 seed from the North.
Zumbro once again took the mound for Payson and stepped up her game with six strike outs while allowing only three runs on three hits and four walks.
"Zumbro pitched outstanding in both games," Dunman said. "She knew what she wanted to throw and studied the other team's batters, adjusting her pitches accordingly."
Payson's offense got behind their young pitcher, combining for nine runs off 15 hits, three walks and one batter who advanced to first after being hit by a Winslow pitch.
Lead-off hitter Owens caused havoc for Winslow's infielders with her bunt/slap-and-run offense. Owens faced Winslow pitchers five times and beat them four times with three singles and a walk.
Waugh also caused mayhem with her speed down the line off a single and a throwing error by Winslow's pitcher.
Miotto, who was batting in the third slot, scored twice in the game after being hit by a pitch, a walk and a single up the middle.
Scholl hit the ball hard to the short stop twice, forcing a throwing error and catching error that drove in runs each time.
Crabtree hit a double and two singles that scored one run.
McRae singled, doubled and walked, scoring twice off hits by Zumbro. Boyes also combined for two hits and two RBIs in the fifth and sixth inning.
Carlton singled twice and scored off hits by Waugh and Scholl. Winslow scored one of their three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning when their lead-off hitter singled and eventually scored on a throwing error by Payson's shortstop.
"We have been focusing on defense all year," Dunman said. "Our goal has been to commit the least amount of errors while forcing the other team to make mistakes."
For all the marbles
Payson enters the semi-final game Friday, May 10, at 7 p.m., as the underdog against Chandler's Seton Catholic, the No. 1 ranked team from the South.
The Lady Horns, who have defeated many teams from larger schools this year in tournament play, are confident they can upset Seton.
"We will put the ball in play and produce runs against Seton," Dunman said.
The winner will advance to the championship game at 7 p.m., Saturday, May 11, against the winner of the Sahuarita and Wilcox game that will be played Friday.
All games are played at the Rose Mofford Complex in Phoenix.