Can a 12th seeded high school softball team defy the odds in a state tournament and rise up to defeat a highly favored five-seed?
That question will be answered at the conclusion of tonight’s 3A state opening round game that pits No. 12 Payson against No. 5 Eloy Santa Cruz.
The Dust Devils finished the regular season with an impressive 22-7 mark that included a 7-1 win over Payson on March 19 in the Gracie Haught Classic Tournament.
Most of the damage in that game was inflicted by Dust Devil Mia Sanchez who was 2-for-3 at the plate with a double and a run scored.
She currently is hitting .413 and is one of the team’s most dangerous hitters along with Traci Ibarra (.435), Mica Lopez (.535) and Tori Gil (.412).
Holding that quartet in check will undoubtedly be a key to a Lady Horn victory.
That chore will most likely fall on the shoulders of freshman pitcher Devann Runzo who held SC hitters in check most of the Gracie Haught Tournament loss.
Payson led 1-0 most of the clash before SC rallied to score six runs in the sixth inning and tacked on one more in the seventh.
However, the Lady Horns were playing their fifth game in three days and Runzo, who had pitched most of the innings, could have been tiring.
Lady Longhorn assistant coach Kadi Tenney is among those who believe Runzo, due to the demanding workload, simply just ran out of gas in the final two innings.
The freshman fireballer won’t face that problem in the state tournament because the maximum number of games a team is forced to play is four over the course of two weekends.
Defensively, the Lady Horns are led by center field Rylee Halenar, left fielder Cami Barnett, Kelsey Waugh at the hot corner and second baseman Natalie Black.
All have been solid most of the campaign.
Payson, however, might be without the services of right fielder Ashley Jacquez who is sidelined with an injury. Her availability will be a game time decision.
In strategizing for a victory, an obstacle the players must overcome is their early game jitters, which have caused several unsettling errors in the first few frames.
“It’s nerves,” said Tenney. “Then they usually settle down as the game goes on.”
Offensively, sophomore slugger Taylor Petersen — the school’s home run leader, anchors the Lady Horns.
Petersen hasn’t punched as many round trip tickets as last year, but her hitting appears to be much more consistent with fewer pop ups and infield ground outs.
Game time today, May 6, is 7 p.m. at Rose Mofford Softball Complex in northwest Phoenix.