Two down, two to go.
That’s the position Lady Longhorn softball players find themselves as the journey toward Payson High School’s first-ever state softball championship continues.
Now in the rearview mirror are a 9-0 tournament-opening win on May 3 over Thatcher and a 7-3 second-round victory the following day against River Valley.
Next up for the hard-chargin’ Lady Horns is a state semifinal showdown against the Winslow Bulldogs this Friday, May 10, at 7:30 p.m.
If the Horns can collar the Dogs, PHS would advance to the state championship game against the winner of the other semifinal clash that features Empire and Estrella Foothills. The gold medal showdown will be played 7:45 p.m., Saturday, May 11 at the Rose Mofford Sports Complex.
Many around the state contend the finale will pit Empire vs. Payson because the two are ranked 1-2 in Division III and have the best win-loss records.
But PHS assistant coach Kadi Tenney hints that Estrella might knock off Empire in the semifinals.
Tenney wouldn’t expound on her reasoning, but her thinking could be because Empire was severely tested against Show Low in the state quarterfinals. At one point in the game, Show Low led 3-0, but Empire rallied for a 4-3 win.
Show Low was not exactly a powerhouse in softball this season, but did take an eighth seed to state.
Last season, the Lady Horns reached the exact point in which they now find themselves — the tournament semifinals. In that tournament, Payson seemed to be on the verge of possibly winning the state title, but a loss in the final four to Bourgade ended the players’ dreams to make school history.
But this is a new year and a new quest to win a coveted state crown.
For the postseason, Empire took a No. 1 power points seed and Payson was No. 2, Winslow was ranked No. 3 and Estrella Foothills was No. 5.
The No. 4 seed, Benson, fell 1-0 to Estrella in the quarterfinals.
In the win over Thatcher, Arianna Paulson received the starting pitching nod from Coach Will Dunman. She responded with another of the pitching gems PHS fans have come to expect since the right-handed fireballer arrived on the local softball scene two years ago.
In hurling the complete game victory, Arianna was simply overpowering. She allowed only one hit and struck out 17 without walking a single batter.
In fact, her control was impeccable. Of the 103 pitches she threw, 69 were strikes.
Defensively, the Lady Horns committed just one error, but with 17 Eagles going down on strikes the team didn’t have many ground or fly balls to handle.
Offensively, the Lady Horns unleashed an 11-hit attack fueled by Arianna, and her younger sister, Arissa, only a freshman.
The one-two sister punch churned out two doubles, three RBIs and six total bases.
The hard-hitting pair, however, were not the only PHS hitters on fire. Megan Wessel went 2-for-4 and Payton Petersen was 2-for-4, with one run scored.
Senior catcher Taylor Petersen was 1-for-4 and reached base on an error.
Against River Valley, a tournament No. 10 seed that beat Chino Valley 11-1 in the first round, Arissa started on the mound and turned in a yeoman-like performance. She struck out nine, walked two and gave up five hits and two earned runs.
Once again, Arianna and Arissa led the Lady Horn hit parade. They combined for four hits, two runs and two RBIs.
Taylor Petersen, who set a school home run record this season with 16, tacked another round trip ticket onto a record that might stand for a long, long time.
Taylor also finished with three RBIs.
All state tournament games have been played at Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix, as will the semifinals and finals Friday and Saturday.
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