If this is going to be one of those good news, bad news stories, it’s an assumption the good news should come first.
So here goes — the good new is that the Lady Longhorns have attained their season-long goal of nailing down a berth in the eight-team Section 3 basketball tournament.
They’ll advance to postseason’s promised land clutching a No. 6 seed by virtue of their 13-6 power points regular-season record.
The bad news, and it’s not all that harming, is that Payson will be playing a very good Fountain Hills Falcons team that racked up a 12-4 power points ranking to finish third in Section III.
More not-so-good news is that the Falcons have to their credit two wins over Payson, having emerged victorious on Dec. 18 by a 53-29 margin and copping a follow-up victory on Jan. 29 by a 50-40 measure.
In the second game, however, PHS was without the services of senior Chioya Hill — the team’s leading rebounder and scorer who was sidelined with an injury but has since returned to the team.
The Payson vs. Fountain Hills first-round S-III game tips off at 4 p.m. today, Feb. 5, at Scottsdale Desert Mountain High School.
In other section tournament games to be played today, No 1. Valley Christian plays No. 8 River Valley at 7:30 p.m. at Valley Vista High School and No. 2 Camp Verde takes on No. 7 Parker at 7:30 p.m. at Willow Canyon High School. At 5:45 p.m. also at Valley Vista, No. 4 Buckeye Union challenges No. 5 Estrella Foothills.
The winners of the first round game advance to the semifinals set for Feb. 8 at Valley Vista High School.
The S-III championship game is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. Feb. 9 at Valley Vista.
All four D-III teams that win first-round games in three sectional tournaments earn berths into the Division III “state” tournament.
Those 12 teams will receive “automatic” berths into the 24-team state tournament. In addition to the automatic seeds playing at state, an additional 12 teams will be selected on their power points ranking.
Which means, even if Payson can’t find a way to ambush Fountain Hills, the team could still find itself at state if PHS’s power points total is high enough.
The Horns will take to the section tournament a team that averages 41 points and 34 rebounds a game but sometimes struggles with ball security as evidenced by its bevy of turnovers this season. Many of those miscues were committed against teams that press, either half or full court.
Should Payson make it to state, it would behoove the players to prepare for pressing defenses because most of the Northern Arizona reservation teams use those types of defensive tactics.
Individually at the sectional tournament, the Horns will be led by hard-nosed senior Chioya Hill, who after sitting out the Fountain Hills game, returned to the lineup a day later.
Although Hill is the team’s leading scorer at 12 ppg, it is her rebounding that has fueled the Lady Horn charge most of the season.
Averaging 17.7 rebounds per game, she leads the division among those who have played at least 17 games.
Hill, who’s mother Cathy Jo (Ewing) Hill played at PHS, is particularly tough on the defensive boards where she has garnered most of the missed shots.
In addition to having the potent Hill to unleash against the Falcons, the Payson lineup is buoyed by the presence of several other standouts including Arissa Paulson, Arianna Paulson, Harley Turney, Alix Parker and Lani O’Donnell.
Arissa Paulson, a freshman center, averages 10.9 ppg and 8.9 rpg, both second on the team only to Hill.
Arianna, Arissa’s older sister, scores 8.2 ppg and on occasion, is one of Payson’s few long-range shooters who can cash in on the three-ball. Arianna is also an unselfish player who can dish off the assist when she finds an open teammate.
Turney, a point guard averaging 6.7 ppg, pulls the trigger in the Lady Horn “O” and has dished out a team-high 44 assists this season. She also is a pesky defender, having been involved in a team-high 60 steals.
Parker averages 4.7 ppg and is not afraid to throw up the three-pointer when she finds herself open.
O’Donnell, who might be the purest shooter on the team, turned in her finest outing of the year Jan. 8 against Show Low when she scored 15 points.
On Feb. 1 in Show Low, the Lady Horns wrapped up the 2012-13 campaign by running roughshod, 50-20, over the seemingly cat-nipped Cougars.
Arissa Paulson led the PHS onslaught, scoring a game-high 12 points that included 8-of-11 free throw shooting which is one of Payson’s best showings this season.
Arissa also corralled seven rebounds, blocked three shots, had three steals and dished out 2 assists to churn out the kind of all-around effort coach Jen White preaches.
Parker chipped in with 10 points and was 3-of-4 from the charity stripe. Arissa and Parker helped the Lady Horns finish 14-of-23 at the line, where the team has not been particularly proficient this season.
Hill and Arianna Paulson tallied eight points each
In the blowout, two freshmen — Tessa Hintze and Sara Novak — received varsity playing time, which, of course, is the dream of most every first-year player.