Lady Longhorn Skye McNeeley’s dramatic grand slam home run thrilled fans and highlighted the hotly contested Gracie Haught Classic softball tournament.
The blast also helped earn the Lady Horn first baseman a spot on the prestigious all-tournament team.
The all-star squad was announced at the conclusion of the tournament played March 20 and 21 at Rumsey Park.
But, before we go any further, let’s set the stage for the moment McNeeley punched the booming home run.
Here we go.
Payson is playing Saturday morning on Rumsey II against Prescott Bradshaw Mountain.
Trailing 3-2, Lady Horn slap hitter Chrissy Heron strikes out to lead off the fifth inning. But the Bears’ catcher can’t handle the third strike and Heron alertly scampers to first.
With her on base, senior three-sport star Cydney Figueroa gets a free ticket on a Bradshaw error. It advances Heron into scoring position at second.
Next up, Rylee Halenar’s single loads the bases — Heron is at third, Figueroa toes second and Halenar is ready to run at first.
Payson still trails by a run, but there are no outs and one of the Lady Horns finest hitters is about to bat. McNeeley strolls to the plate with the confidence only a senior veteran can muster. Refusing to go fishing for something she doesn’t like, McNeeley wisely takes the first pitch.
On a much better second offering, she cocks, swings and rips a scorcher over the left field fence that sends PHS players, fans and coaches into delirium.
The roundtrip ticket also lifts the Lady Horns to a 6-5 victory and lifts the team into a second-round game against Mesa Dobson.
Lady Horns drop two
Although Payson lost 16-0 to Mesa Dobson, the eventual tournament champs, and later was eliminated from the tournament by a 7-3 loss to Estrella Foothills, McNeeley’s grand slam and the win over 4A Bradshaw Mountain was the feel-good story in the Lady Horns’ tournament quest.
On opening day — one in which teams locked horns in round robin pool play for seeding into either a championship or consolation bracket — Payson finished 2-2 and seeded third.
The Lady Horns opened the round robin with a 7-0 loss to Santa Cruz and a 13-3 defeat to Buckeye.
Payson rebounded however, to whip Flagstaff 4-3 and Miami 8-2.
In all, PHS compiled a 3-4 tournament record.
The tournament champion, 5A Mesa Dobson, was 6-0 and in the finale defeated Buckeye 3-2 in seven innings.
Queen Creek whipped Santa Cruz 13-0 to take third place.
$1,000 check unexpected
While McNeeley’s home run was the most dramatic event in the benefit, the most heartfelt was Benson High School coach Shad Housley’s presentation of a $1,000 check to the Gracie Haught Memorial Children’s Fund.
The money was raised by the players and marked the second consecutive tournament they have made sizable contributions to the fund.
Haught tournament director Charlene Hunt, lauded the team for the efforts.
“The Benson girls and their coaches are a very caring and compassionate group of teenagers who have been with the GLH tournament since its inception in 2005,” she said.
“They have taken to heart what the tournament truly represents.”
Hunt was careful to stress that the money Benson donated goes to the children’s fund and not the tournament.
The all-tournament team:
• Kayld Haro, sophomore, Benson
• Lacee Cannon, senior, Blue Ridge
• Shawn Haese, senior, Bradshaw Mountain
• Melissa Avila, junior, Buckeye
• Katie Doyle, senior, Dobson
• Paige King, senior, Estrella Foothills
• Skye McNeeley, senior, Payson
• Rainna Dobbs, freshman, Queen Creek
• Tiffany Ibarra, Junior, Santa Cruz
The all-stars were chosen in a voting of coaches at the completion of each tournament game.
“It was a very competitive process because we had so many teams (15) and good players,” Hunt said.