The Lady Longhorns open the Gracie Haught Classic tournament today, Friday, armed with an arsenal of some of the top hitters in the 3A conference.
The most proficient, senior catcher Sarah Cadd, is hitting at a sterling .538 clip that includes five doubles, a triple, a home run and a team-high 17 RBIs.
Cadd, who will take her softball act to a Florida college next year, also has scored 14 runs and stolen two bases.
"She has a great time playing the game and is really confident in her abilities," said coach Will Dunman. "She always gives every game her all."
Also in the Lady Horns' offensive armory, senior Hannah Armenta is providing plenty of power.
In 40 plate appearances, she has swatted a team-best three home runs, knocked in 15 RBIs and has scored 40 runs.
Aubrey Laird, a senior, has swung a hot bat hitting .386 with two doubles, two triples and a home run.
Other sluggers on the team include Hannah Palandri (.370), Candice Johnson (.368), Rylee Halenar (.317) and Skye McNeeley (.310).
As a team, the Lady Horns advance to the Classic with an 8-6 record that includes a 5-1 victory on March 25 against the previously unbeaten Globe Tigers.
In the triumph, Johnson went the distance on the hill allowing four hits and one earned run.
Her performance drew praise from assistant coach Kadi Tenney.
"Candice doesn't have an overpowering pitch, but she does a brilliant job of getting the ground out and the pop-ups."
Johnson's battery mate, Cadd, also drew praise from Tenney.
"We have been letting Sarah call the pitches and she's done a really good job," she said.
Offensively, Cadd finished 2-for-2 with two doubles, a walk and three RBIs. Halenar, a rookie second baseman, continued her hitting tear as of late with two slap-hit singles in three plate appearances.
"As a freshman, she has really stepped up," Tenney said.
In addition to receiving a sterling effort from Johnson and Cadd, the Lady Horns were solid defensively with just one error.
Tenney lauded the defensive play of outfielders Palandri and Laird who have not committed an error this season.
"It feels good as coaches to be able to rest easy when the ball is hit to either one of them," she said.
The Classic schedule
The Lady Longhorns are aligned in pool B of the Gracie Haught tournament along with Queen Creek, Snowflake and Mesa Dobson. In pool A are Blue Ridge, Florence, Wickenburg and Benson.
Payson plays today, Friday, at:
- 10 a.m. vs. Queen Creek on
- 2:30 p.m. vs. Snowflake on
The results of round robin pool play will be used to seed the teams into a consolation bracket to be played tomorrow.
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.
Tournament director Charlene Hunt said earlier this week that the closing of Beeline Highway was causing concern that some of the Valley area teams, especially Queen Creek and Dobson, might opt out of the tournament.
After checking with those coaches, however, her concerns were alleviated when all confirmed they would attend.
"Some even said they would come up a day early and will use that time to practice," she said.
Editor's Note: The Beeline Highway closure was partially lifted at 10 a.m., Thursday, March 27. A spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation said the northbound lanes are open for two-way traffic over a two-mile stretch with speed limited to 45 miles per hour.