A victory over the Coconino Panthers today will keep the hopes alive for the Lady Longhorns (2-1 and 10-7 overall) for a regional championship and a berth in the state tournament.
Game time is 3:30 p.m. in Flagstaff.
A win also would set the stage for a regional row April 17 against Page. The Grand Canyon face-off vs. the Sand Devils is a rare double-header slated to begin at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on the PHS softball diamond. The twin bill also is one of only two the Lady Horns have on their 2004 schedule. The other will be contested at noon and 2 p.m. April 24 in Chinle.
The doubleheaders were scheduled by PHS athletic director Dave Bradley mostly because of the distance and travel time to Page and Chinle. Rather than making two trips between the towns for the traditional home and away games, the double-headers reduce the journeys to just one.
If the Lady Horns can get past the Panthers today and sweep Page Saturday, Payson would improve to 5-1 and be in solid shape for a run at the region-leading Flagstaff Eagles.
With three regional games in five days, victories in the upcoming series would be huge steps towards coach Will Dunman's goal of winning the regional crown.
Region season under way
In season-opening Grand Canyon play, the Lady Horns dumped Mingus 3-0 April 8 and corralled the Sinagua Mustangs 6-2 April 6. Payson's only loss was 1-0 April 1 to the home-standing Flagstaff Eagles.
In all three games, senior Brenna Zumbro was the pitcher of record.
One of the toughest defeats Zumbro has absorbed in her sterling four-year varsity career was the one-run loss to Flagstaff.
In hurling the entire six innings, Zumbro gave up just four hits while striking out five.
The Eagles scored the winning run in the bottom of the fifth inning when their leadoff hitter and winning pitcher Rhiannon Baca got aboard on a fielder's choice, advanced on a walk and scored on a single by the Flagstaff clean-up hitter.
As good as the Payson pitcher was, Baca was even more efficient holding the Lady Horns to just one hit. Payson's lone single came in the top of the fifth frame when first baseman Sherra Johnson slapped a two-out Baca change-up into left field.
Unfortunately for the Payson cause, Johnson was left stranded at first when the next hitter grounded out to the pitcher.
Following the game, Dunman praised Baca's efforts calling her an exceptional pitcher whose fastball was tough for the Lady Horns to catch up.
Only four days before pitching the one-hitter against the Lady Horns, Baca hurled the Eagles to a two-hit, 18-1, victory over Sinagua.
Mustangs stumble in Payson
In Payson's win over Sinagua on the PHS diamond, the often-sputtering Lady Horn offense finally clicked on all cylinders.
"We hit the ball well. It was good to see," Dunman said.
In Payson's 11-hit attack, Molly Agnes contributed four singles and leadoff hitter Doni Miotto slapped a triple, two singles and scored two runs.
After Flagstaff took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, the Lady Horns rebounded with three runs of their own in the bottom of the third. Big hits in the frame were back-to-back singles by Miotto and Agnes and doubles by Zumbro and Hilari Armenta.
Payson tacked on two insurance runs in the fourth and another in the sixth.
Zumbro allowed three hits and struck out 10.
If the Lady Horns can muster the offense, defense and pitching to finish among the region's top four, the team would earn the right to open the regular season-ending Grand Canyon tournament at home. The postseason opener will be May 1. For all the teams that win in the first round, the regional tournament continues May 3 and 4 at Mingus.