A disappointing 47-46 loss to the Flagstaff Eagles brought the Lady Longhorns' three-game winning streak to a screeching halt and temporarily stalled the team's run to Grand Canyon Region honors.
The heartbreaking defeat, Jan. 24 in Wilson Dome, occurred only three days after Payson had beaten Flagstaff 54-42 on the Eagles' home court.
"We couldn't hit our free throws," coach Rory Huff said. "We were nine-for-25 from the line."
Couple the poor free-throw shooting with 18 turnovers and 18 points off the hot hand of Flagstaff's Jacque Stevens, and it's easy to understand why the upset in the dome occurred.
If the Lady Horns had taken better care of the ball, as they did in the win over Flagstaff when the players committed just nine miscues, Payson might have emerged with a "W."
Also damaging to Payson in the loss was a shoddy defense that allowed Stevens clear looks at the bucket from the top of the key. From there, she hit a pair of three-pointers that kept the Eagles in contention just when Payson seemed to be in control of the game.
At halftime, Payson led 28-21 and at the onset of the fourth quarter, the Lady Horns were in command 40-31.
Early in the last stanza, however, the wheels came off the Longhorn wagon.
Behind eight points from Stevens, the Eagles went on a 16-6 scoring run that ended the Lady Horns' hopes of sweeping the Eagles.
The only points Payson scored in the crucial final quarter were single, two-point field goals from Autumn Herrera, Tanya Davis and Krystal McRae. McRae finished as the leading scorer with 13 points, Davis tallied 12 and Tori Wilbanks and Herrera contributed five each.
In the battle on the boards, Britney Owens and Tracy Fitzpatrick led the Lady Horns with seven rebounds each.
A stiff Flagstaff defense that put the clamps on Danielle O'Haver also contributed to the Lady Horns demise.
Normally Payson's most proficient long-range shooter, O'Haver was held to a single three-pointer and that came early in the game when the Lady Horns were on a 15-8 run.
In the first clash between the teams, O'Haver led the Lady Horns in scoring with 15 points which included a trio of three pointers.
Panthers, Marauders caged
In other Grand Canyon Region action, the Lady Horns dumped Coconino 71-50 Jan. 20 in Flagstaff and ran roughshod over Mingus 56-28 Jan. 18 in Wilson Dome.
In the win over Coconino, O'Haver tied the record of former Lady Horn star Colleen Hale for the number of three-pointers scored in a game with seven.
Five of O'Haver's bombs were racked up in a fourth quarter flurry of scoring. She finished as the game's leading scorer with 27 points. Herrera tallied 10.
In the foul-marred game, the Lady Horns were awarded 31 free throw attempts, but only made good on 17.
In whipping Mingus, Payson was led by 14 points from both Wilbanks and McRae.
Owens turned in an impressive all-around game with six points, six rebounds, a steal and no turnovers. Not having a miscue was quite an accomplishment considering Payson turned the ball over 20 times during the evening.
While it is too early in the regular season to begin filling in the blanks of the GC regional tournament, the Lady Horns' hopes rest on finishing among the top four.
In doing so, the team will enjoy some good, old-fashioned home cookin' in the opening round of the tournament to be played Feb. 8. In the opener, the GCR runner-up hosts the No. 7 finisher. Also, No. 3 hosts No. 6 and No. 5 travels to the home site of No. 4. The region champion receives a bye in the first round.
The finals of the tournament, slated for Feb. 10 and 11, will be played in the Northern Arizona University Skydome in Flagstaff. Admission for regional tournament games is $4.