A 61-47 loss to the Flagstaff Eagles might eventually become the blow that crippled the Lady Longhorns' hopes of winning the Grand Canyon regional title.
Page and Sinagua were expected all along to be championship contenders. With Flagstaff now in the title mix, the Lady Horns have three teams they'll have to chase down in the race for the crown, rather than two.
With the loss Jan. 10 at Flagstaff, the Lady Horns regional record fell to 2-2 (13-6 overall) for the year.
Coach Rory Huff predicted the Grand Canyon race for both the regional championship and state tournament berths will be a dogfight."There's two at the top (Sinagua and Page) and the rest of us are fighting to stay in," he said.
Fans and media around the state are predicting the battle for Grand Canyon championship honors will be the most competitive in the 4A conference.
In the Lady Horns loss to Flagstaff, the two teams exchanged baskets in the early going before the Eagles built a 35-29 halftime lead. Flagstaff expanded the cushion to 55-42 at the start of the fourth quarter.
In the final eight minutes when the Lady Horns desperately needed a rally, the only field goal the team could muster was a two-pointer by Krystal McRae. With only five fourth-quarter points, which included three-of-four free throws, the Lady Horn offense was as ineffective as it has been all season.
Game statistics reveal one of the reasons for the demise of the Lady Longhorns was probably 23 turnovers and four assists.
In post-game assessments, coaches also indicated there were at least two players who were passing up good shots when they were available.
When the Lady Horn offense was clicking, McRae was usually pulling the trigger. She hit four of eight shots from the field and four of five from the free-throw line to lead the team in scoring with 14 points.
Sophomore Kendra Francs had eight points, three rebounds and three steals.
Britney Owens finished with six points, a team-high six rebounds and two assists. Owens also was the only Lady Horn who did not commit a turnover.
Autumn Herrera and Tracy Fitzpatrick contributed six points and three rebounds each.
Payson will have the opportunity to remain in the Grand Canyon title chase tomorrow (Saturday) when preseason championship favorite Page visits Wilson Dome. Tip-off is 5:30 p.m.
A win over the Dust Devils, who have won the Grand Canyon championship six of the past seven years, would be a huge boost for the Lady Horns' confidence and a giant step in the race for regional honors.
Following the Lady Horns' 56-23 loss to Page Jan. 3, Huff said "the game gave our girls a glimpse of what level they will have to step up to win or compete in the 4A Grand Canyon region."
Huff also lamented the fact that Payson was a taller team than Page, but allowed itself to be pushed around inside.
"Page dominated the boards on both ends of the court," he said.
If the Lady Horns can cut down on their turnovers, turn up the offensive heat and be more aggressive under the boards, an upset could be in the making.