Prognosticators from around the state are predicting the Division III state championship softball game could come down to a battle between No. 1 seeded Empire and No. 2 Payson.
That prediction is entirely logical because the two teams have been top ranked in the state most of the regular season.
The Empire Ravens from Tucson wrapped up the campaign with a 28-4 mark and Payson finished 27-4.
However, most of the Lady Longhorns’ losses were incurred in early season when the team was without the services of its two best pitchers — Arianna and Arissa Paulson.
Empire enters the game on a 12-game winning streak, while Payson was won its past 21 consecutive games.
The last time Empire lost was March 30 to a Pasadena, Calif. high school in the Las Vegas Spring Jamboree tournament.
Payson last lost March 22 by a 2-0 score to Round Valley in the Gracie Haught Classic.
Empire High School is located in Tucson, a city rich in softball lore and filled with quality teams. Last year, the Ravens took a No. 7 seed to state and were eliminated in the semifinals by a narrow loss to then No. 2 Estrella Foothills.
Those who follow the Ravens tout the group as a hard-hitting team led by infielder Tazia Henandez and pitcher-infielder Kelsey Smith.
Pitcher Brittany Woolridge has a 15-1 mark and a .68 ERA according to MaxPreps.
While Payson and Empire might be co-favorites, No. 3 Winslow, No. 4 Benson, and No. 5 Estrella Foothills cannot be counted out of the state title chase.
Defending state champion Bourgade, the team that last year ousted Payson from the state tournament, takes a No. 14 seed to state.