After improving to 2-0 with a 2-1 regular-season victory over Scottsdale Coronado, the Lady Horn softball team dropped four of the seven games played in the Buckeye Invitational Tournament.
The Buckeye showdown March 12 and 13 gave Lady Horn coach Will Dunman the opportunity to assess his entire roster of players before 4A Grand Canyon regional action begins March 23 against Mingus.
"The tournament was beneficial in that we got to see a lot of different kids," Dunman said. "Some of them really stepped up and worked hard."
The coach was able to evaluate both his team's offense and defense.
"We hit the ball fairly well, but we have to work on improving our defense during routine plays," he said. "We made errors on plays that we should have made easily."
The key to tightening the defense, Dunman said, "is to be mentally tougher -- not lose concentration."
During the tournament, the team also had the opportunity to experience a pair of extra inning situations it hadn't previously encountered. Against Maryvale on opening day and Saturday vs. St. Johns, the Lady Horns were involved in "International Tie-Breakers."
After regulation play in both games ended in ties, each team opened an extra inning with a runner at second base.
"The runner is the player who made the third out from the previous inning," Dunman.
The purpose of the International Tie-Breaker to provide teams with more scoring opportunities in extra innings.
"It speeds up the games," Dunman said.
The coach said he didn't recall the Lady Horns ever being involved in the tie-breaker prior to the Buckeye tournament.
Against Maryvale, Payson used the rule to its advantage scoring Molly Agnes and Jadyen Walden in the bottom of the sixth inning to salvage a 4-3 victory. Tanya Davis hit the game-winning RBI single.
In a tournament-ending 4-3 loss to St. Johns, the rule worked against the Lady Horns. With the score deadknotted 3-3 in the bottom of the eighth, the Redskins scored the runner from second base to nail down the win.
In addition to Dunman having the opportunity to test all his players under fire and the PHS athletes facing the challenging tie-breakers, the tournament also showcased the entire PHS pitching staff.
During the two days, ace starter Brenna Zumbro improved her record to 5-1. Her only loss was the OT thriller to St. Johns. In the defeat, Zumbro was pitching in relief of starter Morgan O'Haver.
Zumbro posted tournament victories over Prescott, Maryvale and Buckeye.
Freshman Tiffany Klemstein, Sharra Johnson and O'Haver also saw their first mound duty of the season.
The Lady Horns opened the tournament with a 4-3 win over Prescott but later dropped a 4-2 decision to the St. Johns Redskins. In the third round, Payson survived the 5-4 extra-inning thriller over Maryvale. Payson wrapped up first day's action with a 4-3 loss to Wickenburg.
On the tournament's second day, which was a double-elimination shoot-out, Payson opened with a 2-0 loss to Maryvale. The Lady Horns stayed alive in the tournament by defeating host Buckeye 12-1. Hopes of continuing in the diamond skirmish came to a screeching halt with the extra-inning 4-3 loss to St. Johns.
In regular season play March 4 in Scottsdale, the Lady Horns rode the two-hit pitching of Zumbro to a 2-1 victory over Coronado. Zumbro allowed two hits, walked just one and struck out 10. In the Lady Horns eight-hit attack, Doni Miotto was 2-for-4.
Payson (5-4) returns to the Buckeye High School diamond at 3:30 p.m. today (Tuesday) against the homestanding Hawks.