Victories over Snowflake and Show Low might have bumped the proverbial monkey off the Lady Longhorns' backs.
In the past season, Payson High School has fielded several exceptional softball teams that usually came up slightly short when playing the traditionally powerful Lobos and Cougars.
This season, behind the one-two powerful punch of pitchers Rachel Ray and Brenna Zumbro, the Lady Longhorns appear to be the PHS softball team that finally has the firepower to cage both the Cougars and Lobos.
Payson's early season Buckeye Tournament win over Show Low does not affect the regular season East region standings. It did, however, send a notice to the White Mountains that the Cougars no longer reign supreme.
The 3-1 win over Snowflake, which was chalked up March 21 on the PHS diamond, propelled the Lady Horns to a 1-0 start (8-2-1 overall) in the East title chase.
Much of the credit for the victory can be attributed to Ray's skillful hurling. In seven innings on the hill, Ray (5-1) struck out 11, walked one and gave up just one earned run. During her stint, the veteran -- who has in her arsenal at least four different pitches -- faced just seven more than the minimum 21 batters.
The lone run Ray allowed, which was scored in the top of the fifth inning, broke a scoreless tie between the two small-town rivals.
Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the frame, the Lady Horns responded with a three-run outburst that was fueled by singles by Rikki Ray and Sherra Johnson. A pair of Lobo infield errors also contributed to the Lady Horn rally.
Once the Lady Horns posted the two-run cushion, Ray nailed down the win by pitching two shutout innings.
For Snowflake, Becky Reynolds absorbed the loss.
The Lady Longhorns return to action at 4 p.m. today (Tuesday) on the PHS diamond against Desert Ridge. On the agenda for March 27 to 29 is the Kingman Invitational Tournament that is expected to draw teams from California, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.