Pitcher Perfect

Lady Longhorn softball team toppling records with shot at state title

Lady Horn pitching ace Arianna Paulson recently pitched a no-hitter against Mogollon.

Lady Horn pitching ace Arianna Paulson recently pitched a no-hitter against Mogollon. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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A combination of great pitching, stellar defense, standout hitting and a bit of luck is propelling the Lady Longhorn softball team to its finest season ever and perhaps a shot at the school’s first state fast-pitch championship.

Give credit to fire-balling pitcher Arianna Paulson, inspiring defense by third baseman Devann Runzo and hitting by the entire lineup, including school home run record holder Taylor Petersen.

The luck the team is riding surfaced at the onset of the season when Paulson’s family relocated to Payson from Ohio.

At the time, the Lady Horns seemed to be well armed on the hill with Runzo, last season’s pitching ace.

But undiagnosed arm troubles slowed her during the preseason, prompting coaches to scour the lineup in search of a replacement. That’s when luck delivered Paulson to fill the void.

“If she hadn’t moved here, we’d have been in trouble,” said one fan during a recent game.

In the course of 20-plus games this season, Paulson has become one of Division III’s most prolific pitchers and is a shoo-in for postseason honors.

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Devann Runzo smacks the ball for a double at this week’s latest win for the Lady Longhorns softball team, which has an all-star lineup and a shot at the state championship.

“She is a fantastic pitcher,” said assistant coach Kadie Tenney, a PHS alumnus who once starred for the Lady Horns.

But much of Paulson’s success stems from the stand-out skills of catcher Taylor Petersen.

Having played catcher since she was knee-high to a fly, Petersen is among the best defensive catchers in Arizona and has shown to have the moxie, skills and leadership needed to handle a pitcher as skilled as Paulson.

Consider this, Petersen’s job description includes catching Paulson’s five different pitches, several of them lightning fast, while poised on her haunches as batters swing a 32-ounce metal bat inches from her noggin and an often-mordant umpire breathes fire just over her shoulder.

Oh yes, Petersen must do all that while dealing with a knee injury she suffered a year ago.

“Taylor calls the pitches and she has the ability to catch high speed and high movement pitches like Arianna has,” said Tenney. “She is a great catcher.”

While all the tangibles are in place for this team to succeed, it also possesses those secret ingredients of teamwork that make good players great.

“All the girls have really strong personalities, but they are great about leaving the drama off the field,” Tenney said. “They have good attitudes, a strong work ethic and come to practice to get it done.”

While Tenney and head coach Will Dunman adhere to the old coaching adage of “play ’em one at a time” and refuse to talk of possible section or state championships, fans and boosters are not the least bit shy about predicting this team is on the edge of etching its name in the history books.

And possibly on a state championship trophy.

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