The Lady Longhorns could be advancing to the Class 3A Arizona State Softball tournament as the East region's No. 2 seed.
If that scenario unfolds as expected, Payson would open the postseason at 5:15 p.m. May 4 at Phoenix Rose Mofford Complex against the North No. 3 finisher.
However, if league-leading Show Low stumbles down the stretch and the Lady Horns emerged victorious from a clash on Thursday against the Cougars, the possibility exists that Payson could tie for the region title -- results were not available at press time. If a tie should occur, a coin flip would be held to determine the East's seed into the state finals.
Currently, Payson is alone in second place in the region standings with an 8-3 record.
Show Low, who on April 7 beat the Lady Horns 5-0, leads the region with a 9-1 mark.
The Lady Horns solidified their runner-up status on April 20, with a 3-0 win over the homestanding Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets, and four days later with a come-from-behind 11-10 victory over the visiting Round Valley Elks. Trailing Round Valley by five runs entering the bottom of the sixth and final inning, the Lady Horns staged the mother of all rallies to escape with the one-run victory. Hannah Palandri's heads-up base running forced Round Valley into a throwing error and some crucial base hits, which fueled the late rally.
Longhorns vs. Blue Ridge
In the crucial showdown against Blue Ridge, fireballing senior Tiffany Klemstein rose to the occasion to pitch a one-hit shutout.
The only hit Klemstein allowed was a single to the first batter of the game.
"From then on, she was untouchable," said coach Will Dunman. "She also had some fine defensive help behind her."
Among the outstanding plays the coach cited was second baseman Candice Johnson's diving stab of a red-hot grounder, which she turned into an almost routine out. The play put the clamps on a potential Yellow Jacket rally.
"It was a great defensive game," Dunman said. "Batters were up and down, one-two-three. It was a 45 or 50-minute game."
First baseman Tamara Crabdree concurred. She said, she and her teammates were fired up for the showdown in Lakeside.
"Players were diving all over the field making plays," she said.
"We knew how important this (game) was."
With the Lady Horn defense at its rock-solid best, the offense was producing just enough firepower -- four hits -- to nail down the hard-earned victory.
Big hits of the game were Sarah Cadd's double and singles by Candice Johnson, Klemstein and Johnson.
With the regular season wrapping up yesterday and the onset of the state tournament just over the horizon, Dunman is encouraged with the play of his charges.
"They are really coming together as a team," he said. "Especially in the mental parts of the game."
As an example, the coach said players are not fretting over mistakes they've made and are instead putting the miscues behind them and focusing on improving.
"It's important they stay in the game, mentally," he said.