The Lady Longhorn softball team will be buoyed today, in a crucial East showdown against longtime rival Show Low, by standout efforts turned in during a 15-0 season opening win over Holbrook and a 4-1 record compiled in the Buckeye Invitational Tournament.
Game time today against coach Carl Nix’s always-powerful SL Cougars is 3:30 p.m. on PHS diamond.
In the victory over Holbrook, which went into the record books Feb. 28 in Payson, the game was called off after five innings on the 10-run rule.
Freshman Devann Runzo got the starting pitching nod from coach Will Dunman and was credited with the win. Sophomore Megan Wessel also pitched as Dunman used the game to iron the kinks out of his top two hurlers.
At the plate, lead-off hitter Rylee Halenar picked up where she left off last season turning in a 3-for-4 performance with four runs scored.
Karessa Armstrong was 2-for-3 with a double and a single.
Kaitlyn Wessel was also 2-for-3 as Lady Horn hitters lit up Holbrook pitching brighter the night-lights of Las Vegas.
Armed with a 1-0 record, the Lady Horns traveled March 3 to Buckeye for the Hawks’ annual invitational 15-team tournament. Payson, Florence and Parker were the only Class 3A teams entered. Others were 4A and 5A conference schools.
During the first two days of the tournament, the Lady Horns competed in pool play posting a perfect 4-0 record.
On the tournament’s third day, a single elimination shoot-out, Payson lost 4-0 to Williams Field, a team that advanced to the championship where it lost to Agua Fria.
The Lady Horns loss to WF eliminated the team from the tournament just when ambitions were riding sky-high by the undefeated record in pool play.
On the first day, Payson whipped host Buckeye, 6-2, and Maryvale, 16-2. The winning streak continued on the second day with victories over South Mountain, 16-0, and Phoenix Central, 7-5.
Against Buckeye, Runzo called upon all four of her pitches — fastball, change-up, rise and curve — to keep Hawk hitters at bay. The freshman fireballer was credited with the win after going the distance on the hill.
Kelsey Waugh, who was playing in her first game after being injured during the basketball season, returned in top hitting form swatting two doubles.
Halenar was 2-for-3.
In the pounding of Maryvale, a game that was called off after four innings on the time limit rule, Megan Wessel picked up the “W” striking out five.
Cami Barnett chipped in offensively with a triple and four RBIs.
Megan Wessel also pitched the shutout of South Mountain, striking out six in just three innings.
Halenar was perfect at the plate with two doubles and two singles in four appearances.
Last year, Halenar — the lead off batter — was mostly a left-handed slap hitter.
This season, however, assistant coach Kadi Tenney says Halenar is “hitting away” and doing a creditable job.
Runzo was credited with the two-run win over Central, striking out eight in five innings.
Barnett uncorked a double and triple in three trips to the plate.
Natalie Black contributed two singles.
In the loss to Williams Field, the only offense the Lady Horns could generate was two singles by Halenar. Also, PHS hitters were befuddled by the WF pitcher going down on strikes eight times.
Tenney believes Payson’s troubles at the plate, could be attributed to facing a Williams Field hurler with relatively good speed.
“In pool play we saw only slow pitching for four games and against Williams Field we could never adjust to the speed,” she said. “We were used to waiting and waiting and we couldn’t do that against her.
Although the Williams Field pitcher was good, Tenney doesn’t believe her offerings were any faster than the Lady Horns will face in upcoming East games.
Both Wessel and Runzo saw pitching action in the loss to WF, but Runzo was saddled for the defeat after pitching in relief for four innings.