What was predicted to be an afternoon of small town camaraderie, accompanied by standout baseball and softball, turned into only a day of community fellowship.
The anticipated stellar diamond play was lacking in both the softball game, which the Lady Horns lost to Show Low 15-5, and in the Longhorn baseball team's error-filled 9-5 defeat at the paws of the Cougars.
Fortunately, the traditional benefit barbecue dinner, attended by hundreds of school supporters, made the afternoon one to remember.
The menu included mouthwatering deep pit beef, cowboy beans and slaw prepared by one of the Rim Country's finest outdoor cooks, Albert Hunt.
The dinner has long been a much-anticipated event on the high school calendar.
"Much of the community comes out. They look forward to it," said Albert Hunt's wife, Charlene.
All proceeds from the annual dinner benefit the Friends and Neighbors (FAN) school booster club.
In the loss to Show Low (9-3 in the region; 21-7 overall) the Horns (7-5 and 18-10) were their own worst enemy, committing eight errors.
"We gave the game away," coach Jerry Daniels said. "We've been playing much better than that."
In the clash, the Horns were without one of their finest players, senior Jacob Willis, who was sidelined with a twisted ankle.
"If we'd have had him, he'd have been the difference maker," Daniels said. Willis is the second-leading hitter in the region (.556).
He also leads in stolen bases (21) and is one of the Horns' most reliable pitchers.
With Willis out of action, senior right-hander Jason Sweet opened on the hill and hurled the entire seven innings, giving up just two earned runs while allowing eight hits, walking one and striking out eight.
Sweet's hurling and Ridge Halenar's three-run home run kept the Horns in the game until the top of the sixth when the Cougars broke a 5-5 dead knot, scoring four runs.
With the loss, the Horns will advance to the Class 3A state tournament as the East region's No. 4 seed and play North champion Winslow (19-9 and 7-0) in a first round game to be played 3 p.m. May 4 at Maryvale Baseball Park.
The Lady Horns
Entering the crucial clash against Show Low, a Lady Horn win would have lifted Payson into a tie with the Cougars for first place in the East standings. However, with the defeat, Payson (8-4) wrapped up the regular season, tied for second with Snowflake. Following Payson's loss to Show Low, a coin flip was held to determine the No. 2 and 3 seeds. The Lady Horns lost the coin flip and will take the region's third seed to the state tournament.
Payson will play the North region's No. 2 seed at 5:15 p.m. May 4 at Rose Mofford Field in Phoenix. Snowflake advances to state as the East's No. 2 seed.
If Payson win its state opener, the team would play at 11:30 a.m. Saturday against the winner of a first round game, pitting the West region champion against the South No. 4 seed.
Against the North runner-up in the state opener, coach Will Dunman might again start Johnson on the hill or opt for senior Tiffany Klemstein who, the past two weeks, hurled back-to-back wins over Blue Ridge and Round Valley.
In losing to Show Low on the 10-run rule, the Lady Horns stumbled early, as red-hot Cougar bats pounded PHS starter Candice Johnson.
Several errors also contributed to the demise of Payson hopes.