Lady Longhorn Karessa Armstrong smacks this ball into left field in the second inning, as the Longhorns showed their mettle and easily trounced the Lady Yellow Jackets of Blue Ridge in Pinetop, Wednesday afternoon.
Photo by Andy Towle.
The greatest regular season in the 26-year-history of Lady Longhorn softball wrapped up with a scenario befitting the greatest of all sports fables.
So move over 1966 NCAA basketball champion Texas Western, you too 1960 U.S. hockey team that upset the Soviet Union in the Olympics finale and step aside Secretariat, greatest race horse of all time — make room in sports annals for the 2012 Lady Longhorns.
The group will long be remembered as the finest ever and the first PHS softball team to finish the regular season undefeated.
Moreover, the team for the first time in Longhorn history has nailed down the No. 1 power point seed, which means in the state championships, they’re the favorite to pocket all the marbles.
But the season of legends didn’t come easy.
The band of 12 opened the season as relative unknowns playing for a high school team that often didn’t receive much respect around the state.
But all great teams have a time when the players come together and play as one.
Just such a metamorphous began to unfold March 1 when the Lady Horns scrambled, scratched and clawed their way to a second-place finish in the Buckeye Invitational.
The tough challenge of playing six games in three days seemed to build a newfound toughness in the team that eventually helped carry it through the rigors of a demanding softball season, during which teenagers must balance sports, academics, family and friendships in their young lives.
Never was the Lady Horns’ true grit more evident than on April 25 in the season finale against a homestanding Blue Ridge team that had dealt the Lady Horns one of their three losses in early tournament play, which, fortunately, don’t count toward the official season win-loss record.
Playing the game with the same desire and determination Rocky showed in his championship match against Apollo Creed, the ladies in purple counterpunched the Lady Yellow Jackets 9-1 to put a cap on an undefeated regular season.
They are Lady Longhorns, but they had “The Eye of the Tiger.”
PHS receives top seed
Now, the Lady Longhorns are advancing to prep softball’s version of the “Big Dance” clutching an advantageous dance card that could lead to the program’s first-ever state championship.
The beneficial ducat the Lady Horns are clinging to is a No. 1 ranking in the power points standings. As the top-rated Division III team, PHS now receives a first-round bye and in the second round will face a rather lowly 16th or 17th seed. This means, Payson is in great shape to reach the tournament’s elite eight where a modest two-game run would nail down the state crown.
At press time, most of the power points were reported for the season’s 18 regular season games and the undefeated Lady Horns are ranked No.1 — just .7483 of one point ahead of Estrella Foothills.
EF also finished the campaign 18-0 and was atop the rankings most of the season before being passed by Payson on April 25 just minutes after the Lady Horns’ 9-1 win over Blue Ridge.
The Lady Horns dramatic surge to the top spot can be attributed to beating a very good BR team that finished the season 15-3. In the rather complex power point formula used by the Arizona Interscholastic Association and recently revamped to correct some errors, victory points are awarded for beating winning teams.
And that’s just what happened vs. the Lady Yellow Jackets — PHS beat a good enough team to give Payson the points it needed.
The Lady Horns open pursuit of a treasured D-III state title at 6 p.m. May 4 at Rose Mofford Softball Complex, located at 9833 N. 25th Ave. in Phoenix. The opponent will be the winner of a May 2 first round game between the No. 16 and 17 ranked schools, which at press time are Monument Valley and Fountain Hills respectively.
See page 1B for more softball results.