Lady Horns Match Rivals On Dry Home Field

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Mother Nature cooperated, and the Gracie Haught Classic went on without a hitch. The Lady Longhorns played their way out of the doldrums after missing several practices due to wet fields.

"We regained the momentum lost due to weather delays and losses to Globe and Blue Ridge," first year coach Curtis Johnson said.

In the Haught Classic, contested March 24 and 25 on two Rumsey Park fields, the Lady Horns posted a 4-2 record to finish tied for third.

Payson opened on a tear, whipping Desert Edge (5-1), Apache Junction (8-5), Queen Creek (8-3) and Many Farms (11-0).

The Lady Horns, however, dropped their final two games to Benson (8-1) and Basha (5-3). Basha, a newly built Chandler school, went on to whip Benson 1-0 in the championship showdown.

"The game went into extra innings and was one of the best (high school) games I've seen," tournament director Charlene Hunt said.

This go-around of the Classic, none of the games were postponed due to rain or snow as they were last year during the inaugural tournament.

"The weather was beautiful. It was a blessing," Hunt said. "But we had the fields covered last week just in case.

"The tournament was successful beyond my expectations and all the coaches said they wanted to come back (next spring)."

Revenge win

If there was a tournament win that had the Lady Horns' adrenaline flowing, it was during the conquest of Apache Junction.

The two teams were no strangers to one another. The teams clashed March 3 in the consolation championship of the Wickenburg Wrangler Invitational.

In that hard-fought skirmish, AJ survived a 7-6 thriller.

"It was really important to the girls to come back and beat them after that loss," Johnson said.

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Molly Agnes scampers to first base in the Lady Longhorns' 5-1 Gracie Haught Classic opening game win over Desert Edge. Agnes hit .417 in the two-day tournament.

Individually, the tournament turned into what could be nicknamed the "Hilary Armenta Show."

In six games, the PHS diamond demon batted a sizzling .600, drove in nine runs and belted a booming home run that cleared the Rumsey 1 left field fence at 235 feet.

In the win over AJ, she uncorked a line shot that hit the center field fence on the fly.

Her hitting exploits eventually earned her a spot on the all-tournament team chosen by coaches.

"She had a great tournament," Johnson said.

Also for the Lady Horns, the coach's daughter, pitcher Candice Johnson, turned in a stellar performance in which she batted .444, posted a 2.37 ERA and a 3-2 won-loss record.

Sophomore Aubrey Laird hit .500 and chalked up two ground rule doubles on batted balls that bounced over the outfield fence.

Molly Agnes hit at a .417 clip and Hannah Armenta -- Hilary's sister -- finished with a .353 batting average. She also contributed five RBIs and punched her first round trip ticket of the season.

Following the showdown, coach Johnson praised the play of the team.

"Overall, we played very well," Johnson said. "We are getting better."

He also said the tournament provided valuable playing experience the team can call upon in its quest for an East region regular season championship.

That pursuit begins April 1 in Whiteriver with a doubleheader against the Alchesay Falcons.

Game times are 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Following the twin bill, Payson plays a series of eight East games over the course of less than a month.

The outcomes of those will determine the Lady Longhorns post season fate.

To advance to the state tournament, Payson must be among the top four teams in the final region standings.

The higher the finish, the more advantageous the seed will be for Payson.

Four seeds are pitted against No. 1's from opposing regions and two-seeds play threes.

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