A pair of defending state champions boasting tradition-rich softball programs waged a spirited diamond war for the Gracie Haught Classic tournament crown.
Class 3A titleholder Wickenburg edged 2A champion Benson 2-1 in the finale played Saturday evening on the Rumsey II ballfield.
"It was a great, hard-fought game," tournament director Charlene Hunt said.
While the annual skirmish turned into a showcase for the two state titleholders, it was an exercise in futility for the Lady Longhorns, who finished with a 1-4 tournament record.
"We just didn't play very well," PHS assistant coach Kadi Tenney said.
If there was a highlight in the tournament for Payson, it was the play of senior outfielder Aubrey Laird who was selected to the all-tournament team.
Laird's finest game might have been on opening day in a 4-3 loss to the Snowflake Lobos. Laird finished 3-for-3 at the plate and turned in steady defensive play in the outfield.
Payson opened in impressive enough fashion, defeating Queen Creek behind the pitching of senior Candice Johnson.
But that was the only victory the Lady Horns were to enjoy during the two days of play.
After losing by a single run to Snowflake, Payson fell 9-0 to Mesa Dobson.
On the second day of the tournament, the Lady Horns dropped a 10-1 decision to Benson, and later fell 15-4 to Blue Ridge. The Yellow Jackets opened on a tear, pounding out 10 hits in the first two innings.
In the loss to Dobson, the Lady Horns could not generate any offense, posting just two hits -- one by Cydney Figueroa and the other off the bat of Mary Hagen.
Against Snowflake, Hannah Armenta had a double and a single and Johnson hit her second two-bagger of the season.
The only run Payson could score against Benson was by freshman Riley Halenar on Armenta's RBI base hit.
The losses to Snowflake and Blue Ridge were particularly tough to absorb because both are East region members.
If the Lady Horns are to achieve their goal of a top-three region finish and an automatic berth in the state tournament, they'll have to find a way to get past both the Lobos and Yellow Jackets.
Payson will have an opportunity today, Tuesday, to improve against the Yellow Jackets. Payson travels to Pinetop-Lakeside for a 4 p.m. game.
Payson will meet Snowflake April 8 on PHS diamond.