A 47-44 loss to the homestanding Snowflake Lobos Friday evening will probably relegate the Lady Longhorns (12-10 overall, 4-2 in the region) to an East regular season second-place finish.
With four games remaining -- one of which is against powerful region leading Round Valley- the Lady Horns could nail down a runner-up showing by winning three of the East clashes.
In addition to hosting Round Valley today (Tuesday), Payson plays Alchesay (Jan. 31 in Wilson Dome), Blue Ridge (Feb. 4 in Lakeside) and Show Low (Feb. 7 in Wilson Dome).
Overtaking Round Valley (18-1, 6-0) before the season wraps up is all but mathematically impossible. However, a second-place finish is possible and would send the Lady Horns into the regional tournament with a first round bye. That would also guarantee Payson a state berth.
The regional tournament begins Feb. 11 and state tips off Feb. 18 and 19 at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
Against Snowflake, the Lady Horns faced a Lobo squad they had beaten in an earlier season encounter in Wilson Dome. But as every East athlete and coach knows, playing the Lobos in their cracker-box gymnasium where Snowflake draws plenty of vocal support is a daunting task.
Jumping out to a 16-7 early lead, the Lady Horns appeared to be on their way to putting an end to the Lobos' home mystique. By halftime, however, Snowflake had crawled back into contention to only trail 23-20.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Lobos led 36-32.
"We didn't stick to what we wanted to do and that was run the press breaker," coach Krystal Garvin said.
By trying to solve the Snowflake defense with the dribble rather than the pass, Payson played into the paws of the Lobos.
Because the Lady Horns were out of sync, the Lobo's press gradually took its toll.
"It was a very frustrating game because we didn't do what we had practiced (the press breaker)," Garvin said. "We had every opportunity to win."
With a team-high 14 points, Autumn Herrera led the offensive charge. Ashli Herrera, who returned to the lineup after missing a game due to illness, contributed 10 points.
Trista Carlton, the team's leading rebounder averaging about 10 a game, battled inside for seven points.
Also scoring were Krystal McRae (4), Kody Kepp (4), Tanya Davis (3) and Haylee Huff (2).