The temperatures didn’t rise to the balmy digits players, coaches and fans were hoping for, but softball action was searing hot as 16 prep teams from around Arizona battled for the Gracie Lee Haught Classic Softball Tournament championship.
The action unfolded March 19 and 20 on six fields at Rumsey Park and Payson High School.
When the dust finally settled late Saturday evening, the Winslow Bulldogs staked claim to the prestigious title by run-ruling, 15-2, Mesa Dobson, the tournament’s defending champion.
On opening day, when the teams were divided into four pools for round robin play, Winslow posted a 3-0 record beating Blue Ridge, 5-4, Estrella Foothills, 12-4, and Flagstaff, 9-0.
Winslow, which went on to waltz through the second day’s tournament championship bracket, was making its first appearance in the Classic.
“They used to hold their own tournament on the same weekend (as the Classic),” said tournament director and founder Charlene Hunt. “I was told they decided to give up on it and come here for better competition.”
The Dogs’ victory was a feather in the cap for the state’s small school sports since Winslow is a 3A school with a student body of less than 900 students and Dobson is aligned in the 5A ranks with one of the largest student bodies in Arizona.
“It was a good win for Winslow,” said Hunt.
Prior to the tournament, Hunt and other organizers were hoping for warm, ideal playing conditions, but on opening day a cold front blew through Payson that dropped temperatures into the 50s and had players and coaches from the Valley and Tucson schools scrambling for warmer clothes.
“The weather was cool, but everything else went well, we had no complaints,” Hunt said.
The Classic field was the largest in the five-year history of the tournament and may grow to be even larger next spring when Hunt studies the possibility of hosting 20 teams.
She lauds the tournament as a huge boost to a sagging Rim Country economy because it attracts to Payson for two days more than 200 prep players, as well as large contingents of parents, fans and coaches.
At the tournament’s peak, Saturday afternoon, Rumsey Park was overflowing with visitors on hand to catch exciting softball action, purchase a souvenir T-shirt and enjoy some of the lip-smacking delights being served up at two concession stands.
“The park was packed,” said Hunt.
Among the highlights of the Classic was Benson High School’s $1,000 donation to the Gracie Lee Haught Children’s Fund.
It was the third consecutive sizable monetary donation the Benson players have given to the Children’s Fund. The athletes, doing various odd jobs, earned all the money Benson has donated.
The Children’s Fund, which was established five years ago in the memory of Gracie Lee Haught, works in conjunction with the Mogollon Health Alliance to provide financial and emotional support to families suffering from the fallout of tragic accidents and unexpected emergencies, and helps those in need during the most difficult of times.
Haught was 3 years old when she was killed Feb. 6, 2004 in a tragic accident in Star Valley. Her mother, Bobbie Jo, was a junior varsity softball coach at the time. Today, she continues to volunteer help in the program.
In addition to the Children’s Fund benefiting from the Classic, the PHS softball program also receives much-needed financial help from concession and souvenir sales.
Payson opens with two Ws
The Lady Longhorns compiled a 2-3 tournament record with wins over Benson, 5-4. and Bradshaw Mountain, 9-7, but losses to Tucson Amphi, 7-6, Show Low, 6-2, and Santa Cruz, 5-2.
The Benson clash, which had to go two extra innings before being decided, might have been the most exciting of the tournament.
With the two squads dead-knotted 4-4 at the end of seesaw regulation play, each extra frame began with the offensive team having a runner at second base.
Although the runner was in scoring position, neither team could score until the bottom of the seventh when Kelsey Waugh’s line drive was mishandled by a Benson infielder. The hit and resulting miscue drove in Tiffany Gamboa, who had advanced to third on a passed ball.
The game turned more than a bit controversial an inning earlier when Benson coaches loudly argued that Payson’s third baseman had committed interference on a BHS base runner rounding third and bound for home.
Had the interference call been made, the run would have been allowed, giving Benson what might have been the winning run.
Despite heated protests from BHS coaches, both umpires said they did not see the interference and the run was not allowed.
Also in the tournament, Payson’s freshman hitting sensation Taylor Petersen slugged a game-winning, over-the-fence home run in the 9-7 victory over Bradshaw Mountain.
It was the frosh’s fourth home run this season.