Much like famed thoroughbred Silky Sullivan roared from lengths off the pace to win high-stakes races, the Lady Longhorns outscored Blue Ridge, 14-3, in the final eight minutes of play, to nip the Yellow Jackets, 45-43.
In the crucial East region showdown played Jan. 30 in Wilson Dome, the Lady Horns (19-3 overall and 8-1 in the region) were without starting point guard and leading scorer Rhea Cosay, who has been suspended from the team for an off-the-court incident.
School officials said, they are uncertain when Cosay will be allowed to return to the team.
Without Cosay leading the charge against the Yellow Jackets, the Lady Horns were outscored 13-9 in the opening minutes and trailed 24-15 at halftime.
But in the late rally, the Lady Horns called upon a full-court pressure defense to harass Blue Ridge into turnovers, which were often converted into baskets.
"It was our defense and a total team effort that got us the win," coach Grant Coley said.
The coach also cited sophomore center/forward Christina Deaton for her stellar efforts in the paint.
"With her inside, Blue Ridge found it tougher (to score and rebound)," he said. Deaton finished with a team high of 13 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots.
Kayla Morgan, Jenna Robertson, Cydney Figueroa and Lana Cluff contributed six points each. Marquel Waterman and Shawna Davis scored three points each.
Morgan was also a force inside, corralling 11 rebounds and chalking up three steals.
If the Lady Horns had a shortcoming, other than the slow start, it was ball security.
By committing 22 turnovers, Payson was often its own worst enemy.
Coley played down the miscues, saying they were the result of adjusting to the absence of Cosay and the turnovers were problems that could be ironed out.
The Lady Horns return to the Wilson court at 6 p.m. tonight, Friday, against the Round Valley Elks.
The game is huge for PHS title hopes in that its outcome could decide the East region regular season championship.
Payson and the Lady Elks (19-8 and 8-2) -- the No. 1 and 2 teams in the region -- are locked in a head-to-head duel for the East title.
The Lady Horns defeated Round Valley 48-42 in Springerville/Eagar, which could have coach Chris Matthews' charges primed for revenge.
The regular season wraps up tomorrow, Saturday, at Show Low.
The opening round of the regional tournament will be played Feb. 6 at the site of the higher seeded teams. The finals will be played Feb. 9 and 10 in Snowflake.