The Lady Longhorns finally reached the state playoff berth that was denied them last season.
But much to the chagrin of coach Stacy Anderson and the players, it was a one-and-out experience.
PHS was ousted from the single elimination 3A tournament Monday evening at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff by 76-60 loss to Window Rock.
In the defeat, Lady Horn miscues -- which included 21 turnovers -- ended the team's hopes of playing deeper into the tournament.
Also contributing to Payson's elimination was Window Rock's long range shooting. WR, playing reservation-style ball in which shots from beyond the 19-foot 9-inch arc are considered easy attempts, hit eight three-point bombs.
Conversely, the Lady Horns made three three-pointers.
Payson took a 7-2 lead with 6:26 remaining in the first quarter but that was one of the few cushions the Lady Horns enjoyed.
At halftime, Window Rock led 34-28.
WR expanded the lead to 43-33 with five minutes remaining in the third quarter only to see Payson pull within 54-46 at the end of the stanza.
Each time WR built a cushion, the Lady Horns rallied to cut into the lead only to see it soon disappear.
In the fourth quarter, WR was able to retain the lead mostly on its free throw shooting, which included hitting 13 of 22 attempts.
For the Lady Horns, the one-two inside punch of Christina Deaton and Kayla Morgan led all scorers with 18 points each.
Last season, the Lady Horns -- which included many of the girls on the 2008 roster -- earned a No. 1 seed into the state tournament by virtue of winning the East region championship.
The team, however, never got to play in the big show because it was disqualified for having an ineligible player.
On the road again
The rigors of playing three region tournament road games in the course of three days, might have taken its toll on the Lady Longhorns during a 55-47 loss to the well-rested Alchesay Falcons.
The defeat, which occurred in the championship finale of the East region tournament, dropped the Lady Horns from a possible No. 3 or 4 seed down to No. 13. Which meant, Payson was paired against North champion Window Rock in the first round of the state tournament.
The drama of the path the Lady Horns took to the state tournament began Feb. 2 at the conclusion of the regular season. In it, Round Valley, Alchesay and the Lady Horns all tied for the East title with identical 7-3 records.
Power points were then used to seed the teams into the ensuing regional tournament, which was played Feb. 6 to 8 in Eagar-Springerville. Payson, which had the fewest power points of the trio of teams, was award the No. 3 seed. Round Valley received the second seed and Alchesay took the No. 1 slot.
Clutching a three seed, the Lady Horns opened play Feb. 6 in the RVHS Ensphere against the Snowflake Lobos.
The Lady Horns survived over their archrivals thanks in part to 20 points, eight rebounds and three blocks from Christina Deaton.
The following evening, Payson returned to the Eagar-Springerville where the Lady Horns whipped Round Valley 46-39. RV had advanced in the tournament by beating Blue Ridge in the opening round.
The Lady Horns two tournament victories set up a Feb. 8 championship game against an Alchesay team that had been awarded a bye into the finale.
The Lady Horns again made the long bus ride East to the White Mountain community where PHS was throttled 55-47 by the Apache reservation team.
Lady Horn coach Stacy Anderson refused to say the lengthy bus travel and the back-to-back games were the behind the championship loss.
But, the team was asked to take on travel challenges very few predecessors have had to undergo.
About the only time a PHS girls basketball team has been such road warriors was three years ago when the school was a member of the 4A conference Grand Canyon region.
Under then coach Rory Huff, the team was forced to travel to such faraway sites as Page and Chinle.