The Lady Longhorns’ spirited, high-octane performance in the Buckeye High School Softball Invitational Tournament could be an indication of good things to come.
At least that’s the opinion of veteran PHS softball coach Will Dunman who was lavish in his praise of the Lady Longhorn team that returned from the Valley clutching a second-place tournament trophy and a 5-1 record.
“The girls did an amazing job and played some great softball,” he said. “We made key defensive plays and got hits when we needed them.
“It was a fun tournament.”
Most impressive about the showing is the team took the silver without the services of last season’s pitching ace, Devann Runzo, who was rested for precautionary reasons.
Also, four freshmen made the trip to fill in for varsity regulars who needed rest or were sidelined for other reasons.
Without Runzo firing BB’s from the hill, Arianna Paulson — a transfer from Ohio — stepped up to fill the void in remarkable fashion.
In fact, Paulson threw almost every pitch in the tournament, fashioning the same 5-1 record as the team.
Paulson was relieved on occasion, but was the pitcher of record in every game.
In the tournament opener, the Lady Longhorns ran roughshod, 13-2, over Maryvale in a game that ended on the time limit rather than the 10-run mercy rule.
Next up, Buckeye fell 20-0 to the determined Lady Horns.
In the third clash, Payson whipped Betty Fairfax 3-0 to set up a 2-0 extra inning squeaker against Willow Canyon.
The regulation game ended in a scoreless deadlock, setting up a mandated extra inning in which the universal rule was in force. It required that the team at bat begin each extra inning with a designated runner at second base.
In the top of the extra inning, Payson scored twice then turned to pitching and defense in the bottom of the frame to shut out Willow Canyon and nail down the “W.”
The Lady Horns added another victory over Betty Fairfax, this time by a 5-0 score, to advance to the tournament championship against the Willow Canyon team it had narrowly edged earlier.
This time out, Willow rebounded for a 4-1 win to claim the Buckeye crown.
In the first game win over Willow Canyon, Payson pounded out five hits, four of which came off the bats of Natalie Black and Karessa Armstrong who were both 2-for-3.
But in the second game loss, the hitters could never generate the offense needed for a win.
Dunman cited other players for clutch hitting during the tournament including Megan Wessel and Pauslon who added a booming triple to her dominating pitching performance.
Of the freshmen who made the trip to Buckeye, Payton Petersen and Sadie Dunman made key contributions.
A post-tournament appearance on the Phoenix Channel 3 Varsity Zone program was a highlight for all the PHS players.
The Lady Horns return to action today, March 6 at Salt River, the game begins at 3:45 p.m.