Lady Horns Look To Muzzle Bulldogs

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The Lady Longhorns are hoping a state opening round game today, Friday, against Safford, is not a repeat of the 2003 state first-round clash that also pitted PHS against the Bulldogs.

In that game, which was played at Phoenix Rose Mofford field (as today's game is), Safford outlasted an error-prone Lady Horn team 6-2.

In that clash, the Lady Horns entered as the No. 2 seed and Safford was No. 3.

This time the berths are switched. Payson is the third seed from the East and the Bulldogs represent the South's second seed.

Game time is 5:30 on field 2.

For the first round showdown, coach Curtis Johnson is anticipating a highly competitive clash.

"We know Safford will be tough as they took second in the always-tough South conference," he said.

The Lady Horns will counter the Dogs with a team on a roll.

"We finished strong defeating Blue Ridge, Round Valley and Show Low by a combined score of 31-5," Johnson said. "So, we are carrying some momentum into state."

The wins over Show Low and Blue Ridge were confidence builders in that both are state qualifiers. Show Low enters the finals as the East region champion. Blue Ridge is the region's fourth place qualifier.

If the Lady Horns have a weapon that can cage the Dogs, it is their firepower. The current team sports more extra base punch than any in the 20-year history of the program.

During the regular season, the team slugged a whopping 14 over-the-fence home runs

In the past, entire seasons have sometimes gone by and the Lady Horns did not have an over-the-fence home run to their credit.

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Pitcher Candice Johnson is the Lady Longhorns' starting pitcher, but she also swings a hot bat.

The slugging parade is led by Hannah Armenta with seven home runs. Her older sister, Hilary, hit three and Kaycee Pugel has two. Jadyn Walden and Sara Cadd swatted one each.

Also in the well-armed Lady Horn lineup are four .400-plus hitters -- Molly Agnes, Hilary Armenta, Hannah Armenta and Candice Johnson.

As important as good hitting is, pitching usually decides the outcome of crucial state tournament games.

For Payson, the starter most of the season has been Candice Johnson, but Tiffany Klemstine has also shined on the hill.

A real plus for Johnson is that she might be at her best in tournaments. In the Gracie Haught Classic, she compiled a 3-1 record and posted a 2.37 ERA.

In the Wickenburg Invitational, she was credited a three-hit win over Fountain Hills and was an all-tournament selection.

With solid hitting and two accomplished pitchers in the lineup, the coach is ready for play to begin.

"We are optimistic we can do well at state if we play our game and keep the momentum going," he said.

A win over the Bulldogs would propel Payson into a second round game at 10:30 a.m. May 6.

The opponent would be the winner of a first round game pitting Winslow against Chino Valley.

The championship game is set for 1 p.m. May 13. All state games are at Rose Mofford Softball Complex, located at 9833 N. 25th Ave. in Phoenix.

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