The Lady Longhorns, playing with the gutsy determination of a team with its sights set on claiming the 2013 state championship, compiled a 6-1 record on the way to winning the Ninth Annual Gracie Haught Classic softball tournament.
In the 20-team shoot out played March 22 and 23 At Rumsey Park and at the high school, the Lady Horns defeated highly regarded Estrella Foothills 7-6 in the championship finale.
Playing in big time games was nothing new for either team since both were Division III state tournament semifinalists last spring.
The Lady Horns’ Classic win was also the first tournament championship in the softball program’s 26-year history.
Much of the credit for the Classic victory must go to pitcher Arianna Paulson who was rock solid and mostly unhittable over the course of the two days. The fireballer was also a workhorse starting and pitching every game except a 3-1 loss to Round Valley on Saturday morning.
In that defeat, Sadie Dunman started on the hill, but didn’t get much offensive help from her teammates. Paulson eventually relieved Dunman pitching the final two innings.
Paulson’s sterling performance during the Classic impressed voting coaches enough to earn her a spot on the 12-person all-tournament team.
Although Payson emerged victorious as a team, Paulson was the only PHS player to be voted to the prestigious squad, “The players chosen were pretty well spread out; Round Valley was the only team with more than one (player chosen),”said tournament director Charlene Brown.
The Lady Horns, who were coming off a so-so 3-3 showing in the Wrangler Classic Tournament in Wickenburg, opened the Classic by run-ruling Camp Verde 12-0 in a pool game. In the blow out, school home run record holder Taylor Petersen and Paulson homered.
After falling to Round Valley in the second game of pool play PHS rebounded to whip St. Mary’s 3-0.
Payson’s 2-1 pool record earned the team a seed into the championship bracket that was played on Saturday just as temperatures dropped and winds began to swirl.
St. Johns turned out to be Payson’s first bracket victim falling 10-1. Next up, the Winslow Bulldogs gave PHS a good tussle before coming out on the short end of a 4-1 score.
In the Classic semifinals, Payson slipped by a Willow Canyon team, 2-0, that had defeated Payson in the championship game of last season’s Wickenburg tournament.
The PHS vs. Estrella finale matched two of Division III’s finest teams and, as most everyone expected, turned into the barnburner.
Payson fell behind early 3-0, but surged back into contention as the lead see-sawed between the two rivals.
“It was a battle; a great game,” said Brown.
At game’s end, as both teams’ boosters filed out of the stands, some fans left predicting the upcoming D-III state championship game will most likely turn in to a rematch of the classic they had just watched.
Brown agrees, “They will probably see each other again.”
The Lady Horns return to regular season action March 25 in Mingus. Game time is 3:45 p.m.