“A win is a win is a win,” an obviously relieved Lady Longhorn softball coach Will Dunman lamented after watching his team squeak by in what was expected to be an outmanned Miami Vandal nine.
Although the Lady Longhorns, now 23-3, are accustomed to winning games by much larger margins — sometimes run ruling opponents — the clash on April 12 against the Vandals in Miami turned into a seven-inning barnburner almost no one expected.
The Lady Horns received the usual standout pitching from Arianna Paulson, who struck out 18 in a no-hitter, but PHS batters couldn’t generate the offense needed for a runaway win.
“We made contact with the ball, but the hits didn’t fall in,” Dunman said. “Sometimes that happens.”
In Payson’s five-hit attack, Megan Wessel and Paulson had two base hits each.
One of Paulson’s was a double, the Lady Horns’ only extra base hit of the game.
The Lady Horns opened strong, scoring their two runs in the top of the first, but failed to generate any offensive threat the remainder of the game, despite drawing seven walks.
When on the base paths, however, the Horns churned out their best imitation of Prometheus, stealing seven bases including two each from Taylor Petersen, Megan Wessel and Paulson.
With the win, the Horns are currently ranked third in power points among the 55 teams in Division III.
Payson could conceivably pass second-ranked Benson before the end of the regular season on April 24. Only about .27 of a point separates the two teams in the standings.
Catching top-ranked Estrella Foothills, however, might not be attainable because EF has about a 1.6 lead over PHS and plays a rugged schedule that produces extra points based on strength of schedule.
A second or third seed into the state tournament is nothing to be sneezed at since either would be a huge advantage to Payson once the D-III shootout begins May 2 at Rose Mofford Complex.
With either of the berths, the Lady Horns would receive a first-round bye and in the second-round game would face a much lower seeded team, making PHS a huge favorite to advance to the tournament’s elite eight on May 5.
The team takes the next step toward a berth in the state tournament at 4 p.m. today on Lady Horn field vs. Salt River. The two teams met on March 6 at Salt River near Scottsdale where PHS took a 15-0 win.