If there is a certainty in Class 3A softball, it's that sparks fly when the Payson Lady Longhorns clash with nemesis Show Low Cougars. That longtime precept of diamond life in small town Arizona is what makes this evening's (Friday) regular-season-ending meeting between the two adversaries a game fans won't want to miss.
In the most recent clash between the two schools, April 24 in Show Low, the Cougars held on for a nail-biting 1-0 decision. That game was originally scheduled for April 15 in Show Low but was postponed by rain and wet playing fields.
The one-run loss to Show Low was the second in a week the Lady Longhorns suffered. On April 17 in Snowflake, the Lady Horns dropped a 1-0 decision to the Lobos.
Earlier in the season, the Lady Horns chalked up an East region win over Snowflake and whipped Show Low in the Buckeye Invitational Tournament. In the victory over the Cougars, Payson tagged the loss on Cougar ace Bobbi Joe Merrill, who was the winning pitcher in SL's 1-0 victory.
Entering tonight's showdown, PHS coach Will Dunman is projecting the Show Low pitching staff will again call upon Merrill to take the hill. Dunman said he will counter with Rachel Ray, who is rounding back into top form after being sidelined in mid-season with an injury.
With two of the state's best pitchers on the mound, fans can expect a low-scoring game. If Payson is to win, the offense must find a way to score at least a few runs to support Ray.
According to Dunman, the team has worked in practice on tuning up the "short game," which includes bunts, slap bunts, steals and other methods of getting runners on base and moving them into scoring position.
Offensively, the team is led by Brenna Zumbro who has posted a team-leading .321 batting average. Ray is hitting at a .311 clip and Sherra Johnson has a .306 average.
The coach said rapidly improved Hillary Armenta also has had a hot bat as of late.
"She has made a lot of good contacts," he said. "She's swinging (the bat) well."
Defensively, the team has turned in a solid showing most of the season. Currently, the Lady Horns sport a .940 fielding average.
If the Lady Horns win tonight, the team will advance to the state tournament May 9 at Rose Mofford Complex in Phoenix as the East's No. 2 seed. Such a berth would pit Payson against the South No. 3 finisher. If the Horns lose to Show Low, the team could end up in a tie for second with Snowflake and a coin toss might be held to determine seeds to state.