After falling to longtime East region rival Show Low, the Lady Horns express engineered its way back on track with a 9-2 victory over the Round Valley Elks.
Now sporting a 1-1 East record (7-6 overall), Payson remains in contention for a top-three region finish and a berth into the state tournament, which will begin May 2 in the Valley.
Currently, Show Low leads the region standings with a 2-0 slate, but is 6-4-1 overall. Snowflake, which is 11-4 and 1-0, might be the team to beat once the region season heats up in April.
Shaylee Yellowhair, who is hitting a robust .500, fuels the Lady Lobos. As a pitcher, she has a miniscule .675 ERA and leads the league in strikeouts with 131.
In Payson's win over Round Valley, which was chalked up March 18 in Eagar-Springerville, the Lady Horns were on fire out of the gate.
Senior outfielder Aubrey Laird opened with a single and was then driven home by Sarah Cadd's booming home run over the center field fence.
"It (the home run) surprised someone who foolishly parked their car outside center field with a nice new dent," Lady Horn assistant coach Kadie Tenney said.
After jumping out to the 2-0 lead, the Lady Horn offense continued to pour it on RV.
"Our offense was hot as we were able to score one or two (runs) in almost every inning," Tenney said.
The Lady Horns received timely hitting from freshman Riley Halenar who has become adept at slap-hitting techniques. The frosh had two hits but was on base four times thanks to a walk and fielder's choice. She also scored two runs.
In addition to the Lady Horns fielding a high-powered offense, the team shored up a defense that has been leaky at best.
By committing only one error, the "D" gave winning pitcher Candice Johnson all the help she needed to go all seven innings and pick up the win.
Johnson, a senior bound for Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, gave up just two hits.
Following the win over RV, the Lady Horns returned to the diamond with a vengeance, chalking up a 13-6 victory over the visiting Holbrook Roadrunners of the North region.
Although PHS eventually ran away with the win, the Lady Horns trailed 4-0 entering the bottom of the fourth inning.
"It took us a while to wake up the bats," Tenney said. "Holbrook's pitcher was super slow, which was tough to adjust to."
In the fourth, however, Cadd ignited a five-run rally by slapping a base hit.
Hannah Armenta's two-run home run in the sixth pushed PHS out to a 7-4 lead. Armenta finished 3-for-4 with a single, double and the round tripper.
Also in the win, Halenar continued her slap hitting excellence by punching a Roadrunner pitch over the right fielder's outstretched glove. Halenar was credited with an inside the park HR on the hit.
Defensively, the team finished with just one error.
Johnson was credited with the win after coming on in relief in the fourth inning.
Haught times at Rumsey
Payson returns to action March 28-29 in the Gracie Haught Classic.
Eight teams from around the state, representing school size classifications 2A to 5A, are slated to participate in the springtime diamond shootout.
During the first day of competition, the teams will be aligned in two four-team pools.
The Lady Longhorns find themselves in pool B along with Queen Creek, Snowflake and Mesa Dobson. In pool A are Blue Ridge, Florence, Wickenburg and Benson.
Payson plays opening day at:
- 10 a.m. vs. Queen Creek on Rumsey III
- 2:30 p.m. vs. Snowflake on Rumsey III
- 5:30 p.m. vs. Dobson on Rumsey II
The results of round robin pool play will be used to seed the teams into a consolation bracket on Saturday.
In it, the champions from the two pools open against the fourth-place finishers of the opposite pools. Also runners-up play third-place finishers in the first round. The championship game will be played at 5 p.m. on Rumsey II.