The Lady Longhorns’ season-ending 12-4 win over the Fountain Hills Falcons is now paying double dividends.
“It really gave us a much needed boost of confidence and it allowed us to score enough power points to put us in a better place for the state playoffs,” said assistant softball coach Kadi Tenney.
AIA power rankings as of yesterday, April 25, show the Lady Horns, with a 10-8 record, now rated No. 10 in the 28-team 3A conference just .5 of a point behind No. 9 Blue Ridge.
The AIA 3A East standings show Payson, with a 5-5 region record, in fourth place behind league leading Snowflake (10-0), Blue Ridge (7-3) and Show Low (5-4).
In the eight-run victory over the Falcons, which was a rare evening game played April 22 on PHS diamond, freshman Devann Runzo turned in a pitching gem, hurling all seven innings while giving up eight hits and striking out seven.
Crucial in the win was that she did not issue a base on balls.
“Devann and I talked about keeping the walks to a minimum and she really stepped up to the challenge,” said Tenney.
Defensively, the Horns struggled in the early innings.
“We were strung up on adrenaline early in the game, causing us to bobble some grounders,” Tenney said. “But after the third inning and some relaxation strategies in the dugout, we played clean.”
Offensively, the Lady Horns turned in probably their best showing of the season, pounding out 12 base hits.
Sophomore Taylor Petersen, the school home run record holder, was 2-for-2 at the plate with two intentional walks.
“They walked her the first two times at bat because they remembered what a huge threat she was the last time we played,” said Tenney.
In the fourth inning, however, the Falcon hurler had no choice but to pitch to Petersen because when she stepped in the batter’s box, the bases were loaded.
Earlier, Rylee Halenar and Runzo singled and Chrissy Heron walked.
With the bases jam-packed with Lady Horn runners, Petersen responded by stroking a two-run double.
“It was sweet,” Tenney said.
In the sixth inning with the bases again loaded, Kelsey Waugh doubled, scoring Megan Wessel, Kaitlyn Wessel and Petersen.
In addition to the softball game played that evening, the Lady Horns held their annual benefit deep pit barbecue beef dinner that drew an overflow crowd.
“We sold out; it was fantastic,” said Tenney.
All the proceeds from the dinner, which can reach $3,000, benefit the softball program.
With the win over FH in the record books and the regular season at an end, the Lady Horns open East region tournament play at 4 p.m. today on PHS diamond against Round Valley.
Payson will be huge favorites to defeat the 6-10 Lady Elks and if the Rim crew lives up to that billing with a “W”, Payson would advance to the tournament’s second round to be played at 4 p.m., April 28 in Eagar.