Armed with a pair of the Class 3A conference's finest pitchers, the Lady Longhorns begin pursuit of the school's first state championship at 3 p.m. today on field No. 4 of the Rose Mofford Sports Complex. The Sports Complex, where the entire state tournament will be contested, is located at 9833 No. 25th Avenue in Phoenix. Admission to state tournament games is $5 per person.
For Payson, the one-two hurling punch of Rachel Ray and Brenna Zumbro will provide the team with a pair of aces that could prove to be among the best in the tournament. The duo pitched Payson to an East region second-place finish and the best showing in the 16-year history of the PHS softball program.
As good as the Lady Horns have been in some seasons, the team has never advanced past the state tournament's second round.
To end the quarterfinal hex, the Lady Horns need an opening victory today over South third-seeded Safford.
Rae is expected to draw the starting nod against the Bulldogs.
If the Lady Horns beat the Dogs, the real test would come at 10 a.m. tomorrow on field No. 3 against the winner of a first-round game pitting South champion Seton Catholic against East fourth-seeded Blue Ridge. Last year, Seton ended Payson's title hopes in the tournament's second round.
The state semifinals will be played at 7 p.m., May 16. The state championship is on tap for 7 p.m. May 17.
Among the title favorites in the tournament field are regional champions Winslow (North), Show Low (East) and Higley (West).
Longshots that could make a run at a crown include Camp Verde (West No. 2), Snowflake (East No. 3) and Fountain Hills (West No. 3).
The Lady Horns begin tournament play riding the emotional high of a 7-2 regular season-ending victory May 2 over rival Show Low.
In that upset, the Lady Horns whipped one of the best pitchers in the conference -- Bobbie Joe Merrill.
Armed with the confidence that they were able to sideline a superb hurler like Merrill, the Lady Horns could be primed and ready to take on all-comers.
Since early season, coach Will Dunman has preached the virtues of the short game which includes bunts, slap bunts and steals.
If the Lady Horns can get runners on base and advance them into scoring position, a crucial base hit or an opponent's error would be all the team needs to provide the run support either Ray or Zumbro requires for a win.
In Lady Longhorn land, hopes are high that PHS now has the team to bring home a much-coveted state crown.