An annual highlight of the spring sports season unfolds Friday, April 8, just prior to the Lady Longhorns vs. Blue Ridge softball game on Payson High School diamond.
It’s the Lady Horns’ barbecue fund-raiser that annually attracts throngs of fans eager to taste bits of Albert Hunt’s deep pit beef and cowboy beans that have long pleased the palates of those who savor outdoor cooking.
The meal consists of down-home delicious beef, beans, salad and a drink for $6. Tickets are available at the door or from Kadi Tenney at (928) 468-1838.
All proceeds, which often exceeds $3,000, benefit the PHS softball program.
In addition to a luscious dinner, the evening is a chance to enjoy small-town camaraderie and cheer on the Longhorn softball and baseball teams as they take on Blue Ridge.
Junior varsity game time is 4 p.m. and the varsity game will be played immediately after, about 6 p.m. The meal will be served from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the field.
In the eight years since the inception of the dinner, the benefit has been hosted almost entirely by Hunt and friends of the softball team including Payson Fire Captain Toby Waugh. He usually has his arm twisted enough to stow away the fire hose and volunteer to expertly carve and serve the beef.
Just last year, the FAN (Friends and Neighbors) Club took over running the show, but Hunt continues to prepare the meal at the family ranch in Strawberry. After it is slowly prepared, it is taken to the softball field concession stand where it is served up generously to hungry patrons.
Hunt says he normally burns about a cord of oak cooking the meat because the hard oak produces better coals than other types of wood.
After the oak has burned for about eight hours and turns white-hot, Hunt covers the coals with large rocks and the wrapped meat is set on top of the rocks. The pit is then covered with an iron lid and about six inches of soil is shoveled on the lid.
After simmering underground for 12 hours, the meat emerges juicy, fork-tender and scrumptious.
The cowboy beans, also a recipe passed down to Hunt, are slow-simmered in a 20-gallon kettle and seasoned with a variety of spices.
Lady Horns looking for a payback
While the meal is a huge draw and benefits the program, the focus of the afternoon is on the Lady Horns’ rematch against Blue Ridge.
On March 29 in Lakeside, Payson dropped a heartbreaking 5-4 decision to the Yellow Jackets in eight innings.
What made the loss tough to absorb for PHS faithful was the manner in which it went down.
“BR came up with a clutch hit in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and a runner on second to win the game,” said assistant coach Kadi Tenney.
The Lady Horns, Tenney continued, “scored all four of our runs in the first three innings and then the well ran dry.
“Our bats were cold following a week without games, during spring break.”
Rylee Halenar and Taylor Petersen led the Lady Horns offense, each swatting two singles in four plate appearances.
Kaitlyn Wessel had a double in four trips to the plate and Natalie Black and Chrissy Herron had singles, also in four appearances.
Just one day after falling to Blue Ridge, the Lady Horns came roaring back from adversity to nip homestanding Show Low 10-9 in seven full innings.
Tenney remembers the game as a dramatic come-from-behind win highlighted by solid pitching from freshman Devann Runzo.
“We were down 9-7 in the top of the seventh and scored three runs on defensive errors,” said Tenney. “Devann held the top of the lineup scoreless in the bottom of the (seventh) inning, striking out two and forcing a weak grounder to second base to finish the game.”
Offensively, Cami Barnett — hitting in the No. 9 slot — crushed a two-run homer and drove in three runs.
Herron had two singles and scored three runs in three trips to the plate. Petersen, in four plate appearances, stroked a double, two singles and had an RBI. Runzo and Kaitlyn Wessel each poked singles and contributed two RBIs each.
On the hill, Runzo struck out eight and flourished under good help from a defense that committed just two errors.