A 51-50 loss to Class 5A Yuma Cibola put the dampers on the Lady Longhorn basketball team's hopes of winning the River Valley Invitational tournament Dec. 5 and 6 in Laughlin, Nev.
After racking up three consecutive tournament wins, the Lady Horns ran head-first into the powerful Cibola team that also was undefeated.
Following the loss, the Lady Horns rebounded to whip River Valley, 54-45, but dropped the invitational finale, 60-54, to Bradshaw Mountain.
With a 4-2 tournament record, Payson was awarded fourth-place honors in the 16-team field.
The finish might have been even better if the Lady Horns had the services of Autumn Herrera and Haylee Huff. Herrera sat the game out with the flu and Huff was relegated to the bench early in the game with foul trouble.
Although the defeat was tough, coach Rory Huff praised the team members.
"To come this close to a 5A team without the services of two starters shows how deep and talented the team is," he said.
In the absence of Herrera and Huff, Krystal McRae stepped up to lead the scoring parade with 17 points. Britney Owens finished with 12.
On an early roll
Payson tipped off the tournament in convincing fashion, whipping Palo Verde, 69-39, Higley, 52-31, and Lake Havasu, 51-49.
In the lopsided debacle against Palo Verde, Owens paced Payson offensively with 11 points. Herrera and Huff contributed 10 each. All 10 players on the PHS roster managed to score.
In beating Higley, the Lady Horns dealt their coach of last season, Crystal Garvin, a sound defeat.
At the conclusion of last year, Garvin resigned both her coaching and teaching positions at Payson High to accept similar jobs at Higley.
In the PHS win, McRae led all scorers with 15 points. It was, however, sophomore Kendra Francis who drew praise from the coach.
"She showed the coaching staff she is ready for varsity play," Huff said.
Against Lake Havasu, McRae turned in what was probably her best game of the season.
"She dominated play at both ends of the floor and led all scorers with 17 points," Huff said.
Owens contributed 10 and a strong rebounding effort.
Following the narrow win, Huff characterized the game as "a hard-fought contest in which the Payson girls showed they know what it takes to win."
In thumping tournament host River Valley, Kody Kepp finished with a season-high 15 points. Haylee tallied 11.
The loss to Bradshaw Mountain, Huff said, could be attributed to the fatigue created by the long bus trip to Laughlin and the three back-to-back games the team was forced to play on the final day.
"Those took their toll and we were unable to keep up with Bradshaw," Huff said.
Sophomore Tracy Fitzpatrick used the game to make a statement for more varsity playing time. The youngster, who built a reputation last season as a fiery competitor, tallied 11 points. With 13 points, Owens led Payson in scoring.
Sporting a 6-2 record, the Lady Horns return to the hardwood today at Pinnacle High School.
Game times are 4 p.m. (freshmen), 5:30 p.m. (jayvee) and 7 p.m. (varsity).
Tomorrow, the Lady Horns play host to Prescott in Wilson dome. Game times are 4 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.