A Grand Canyon Region tournament upset turned a second-round clash in into a must-win game for the Lady Longhorn basketball team.
With a state tournament berth on the line, however, Payson came up short losing 36-31 to the Page Sand Devils.
Coach Rory Huff and his charges traveled to Flagstaff for the Feb. 10 game against Page thinking that if they lost to the Devils, they'd have another opportunity to finish among the GCR's top three and advance to state.
The second game would be a Feb. 11 battle for third place among the two teams that lost in the second round.
Most prep basketball observers in the state sided with the reasoning that Payson had two shots at advancing to state.
But the best laid plans went awry in the first game of the second round when the Flagstaff Eagles pulled off the upset of the season beating Sinagua 68-59 in two overtimes. Entering the game, state No. 1 ranked Sinagua (25-2) was a huge favorite having easily won the GCR regular season title.
With the upset, Sinagua was awarded the GCR's third seed because it earned the regular season title. That eliminated the need for a third-place tournament game and Lady Horn hopes of advancing to state.
Knowing the showdown against Page was an elimination game, both teams tuned in the gutsy effort that was expected from them.
Page took an early 9-7 lead and expanded to as many as five points before Danielle O'Haver's three-pointer off an inbounds play just second before halftime pulled Payson to within 19-18.
In the crucial third period, Page sophomore Tamika Howard gave her team a huge lift scoring nine of her 12 points. Most of her points were scored off of dribble drives to the hoop.
On the struggling Page team, Howard was about the only Page player who could score during the quarter.
Lady Horn woes were compounded by the loss of Tracy Fitzpatrick and limited playing time of Krystal McRae. Fitzpatrick was sidelined by an injury and Coach Rory Huff had to sit McRae, who was in foul trouble much of the game. McRae, however, finished as the leading scorer with 12 points.
In the final minutes of the game and Page protecting a slim lead, Devils coach Mike Beall called for a stall game that ran precious minutes off the clock.
Because the Lady Horns had committed only two fouls in the second half, it took the team several minutes to send the Devils to the free-throw line.
For Payson, Tori Wilbanks had six points, Autumn Herrera tallied five and Haylee Huff and O'Haver finished with three each.
With the win, Page assumed a 3-1 advantage of the Lady Horns in 2004-2005 play. Payson's win was chalked up in the Holiday Hoops Invitational championship game.