The Lady Longhorn softball team appears to be peaking just in time for the highlight of the home season — the Gracie Haught Classic.
Payson enters the 15-team tournament, to be played today, March 20, and tomorrow at Rumsey Park, on a 2-1 season roll during which they have played, what coach Will Dunman calls, “extremely well, we have started strong and finished strong.”
After struggling to a 0-2 mark in the Wickenburg tournament, the Lady Horns began to show marked improvement March 12 in a 15-12 loss to homestanding Globe. Just two days later, PHS won a 2-1 won squeaker over a Winslow team that had manhandled Payson Feb. 25 is a preseason scrimmage.
The road to respectability continued March 17 in Camp Verde with a 12-4 win over the Cowboys.
During the three-game stretch, the Lady Horns have ridden the pitching of Mary Hagen who was the winning hurler against both Winslow and Camp Verde, but absorbed the Globe loss.
She was particularly effective in the win over CV striking out nine and allowing six hits.
“She did a heck of a job,” Dunman said.
Hagen was also on top of her game against Winslow when her assortment of offerings, which includes a fastball, change-up, drop, rise and screwball, kept Bulldog hitters off balance throughout the clash.
“Winslow scored their run in the top of the first and after that they hit only one ball to the outfield,” Dunman said.
Although Hagen scattered seven hits, most of her pitches went for groundouts, fly balls and Ks.
The Lady Horns scored their two runs in the bottom of the third after Chrissy Heron got the team off on running on a bunt that resulted in two Dog throwing errors.
Rylee Halenar and Heron finished 2-for-3 at the plate.
Dunman called the win, “a huge momentum boost for us.”
In the win over Camp Verde, Skye McNeeley was 4-for-5 with a home run and two RBIs. Kelsey Waugh had two hits in four trips to the plate.
Defensively, the Lady Horns had one of their better outings committing only two errors.
Against Globe, PHS fell behind 10-0 and appeared to be out of contention.
But refusing to cry over spilt Gatorade, the Lady Horns roared back with four runs in the second inning, two in the fourth, five in the sixth and one in the seventh.
“We didn’t give up, we finished strong,” Dunman said. McNeeley was 2-for-5 with an over-the-fence home run and senior infielder Cydney Figueroa shined with a 3-for-4 outing.
Play in the tournament has undergone an unexpected schedule change due to Agua Fria dropping out of the fray.
Today, March 20, the Lady Longhorns play at 10 a.m. vs. Santa Cruz; 1 p.m. vs. Buckeye; 4 p.m. vs. Flagstaff; and at 9 a.m. tomorrow, Saturday, vs. Miami.
All games except vs. Buckeye are on Rumsey II. The Buckeye clash will be played on Rumsey I.