The Lady Longhorns basketball team lost a heartbreaker this weekend, falling to Fountain Hills’ come from behind effort — with a little help from a controversial call.
Payson lost 50-51 to a larger, tougher team, in part because a Payson player reacted strongly to a blocking call that some spectators considered questionable.
The blocking penalty followed by a technical foul gave Fountain Hills a rain of free throws that proved decisive.
Still, Payson Coach Kelly Krieg said the tense, high-stress game helped steady, forge and build confidence in a team still seeking its balance, with only one senior in the starting lineup.
“It was one of our best games,” said Krieg, “but it was bitter-sweet because in the end we lost.”
The loss brings the preseason record to two lopsided wins, two lopsided losses — plus the weekend nail-biter.
The team travels to Show Low tonight for the first league game of the season, then the Lady Longhorns will play four games at a weekend tournament in Wickenburg.
Although they fell one point short in the Fountain Hills game, the hard-fought contest and the Lady Horns’ relatively balanced scoring and improved defense positioned them well for the challenging week.
“You could call it a moral victory,” said Krieg of the fledgling team’s near win over a team that dominated them last year.
“But then, it was a loss. I’m sure that Fountain Hills doesn’t care they won by one point — a win’s a win.”
Teanna Lopez led one of the best team efforts of the year, with 16 points scored.
“Her drive to the basket was really working,” noted Krieg.
However, despite a much-improved defensive effort over the past two games, the Longhorns could fashion no answer to Fountain Hills’ strongest player — who scored 30 of the team’s 52 points.
“She had a pull-up jump shot that just nailed it,” said Krieg. “It was like an NBA jump shot,” rare among women basketball players.
The shot proved too much for Chioya Hill, stuck with a hard to disrupt shot with the team’s man-on-man defense.
“Chioya did a great job, just getting a hand in her face, “but this girl was doing NBA type drives.”
However, Hill scored 10 points on her end, the number three scorer — just behind Kayla Perry’s 11 points and Lopez’s 16 points.
The hard-fought game against a top-ranked team helped the team gel, after uneven performances in the first four games of the pre-season.
So far the Payson girls team has trounced Chino Valley and Globe, but gotten mauled by Winslow and Holbrook. The loss to Fountain Hills makes them 2-3 for the year, but just barely.
“I think our best basketball is ahead of us,” said Krieg, who said the Fountain Hills game helped pull the team together and give them good experience in a high-pressure situation.
“We’re just going to have to play good defense,” said Krieg, noting that so far defense has represented the team’s biggest challenge. By and large, the team relies on a man-to-man defense, rather than tackling the complications of a zone defense.
“We’re finally starting where we can believe we can win” even against strong teams, “as long as we play hard and provide defense. Fountain Hills “beat us by 20 points last year. And we started out pretty tense — we haven’t been in a situation like that before,” said Krieg, who has coached the girls team here for the past two years — after spending four years at Yuma.
“Sometimes people gripe around here,” laughed Krieg, “but I’ve been to Yuma. I just say, ‘you have no idea.’”