SHOW LOW – The Longhorns stormed into Tuesday’s Section IV Girls Basketball Tournament on a roll.
Payson closed the regular season with three consecutive blowout victories that earned the Horns a berth in the Division III state tournament.
So it may have seemed like Winslow dumped a bucket of cold water on them when the defending state champions beat the Longhorns 66-43 in the section tournament semifinals at Show Low High.
But PHS coach Jennifer White said taking on the Bulldogs was good for her players heading into the opening round of the state tournament on Wednesday.
“It prepares us for what’s coming up,” she said. “We know what we need to do. The power points are great. And it gives these kids a lot of experience to play these tough games.”
The Longhorns (12-16), the No. 4 seed for the section tournament after winning finishing fourth in the regular-season section standings, moved up from No. 20 in the Division III power rankings to No. 18 after the loss because teams are rewarded for facing strong teams.
It was the second meeting between the teams in two weeks. The Bulldogs thumped PHS 56-35 at Payson on Jan. 30. That was the Longhorns’ only loss in their final five regular-season games.
With a nearly two-week gap between their final regular-season game and the start of the state tournament, the rematch helped the Horns. It gave them a chance to work on their game against a competitive team before the start of the single-elimination state tournament.
Well, that’s selling Winslow short. The Bulldogs may be just as good this season as they were in winning the state championship a year ago. Winslow is the premier girls basketball program in the division, having reached the Division III/Class 3A state championship game eight times in the last 10 years, winning five titles.
“They’re fantastic,” White said. “They’re impressive and they play hard. They’re just solid all the way around. It was a tough game.”
But the Longhorns stayed in it throughout the first half. Winslow, No. 2 in the Division III power rankings, led by just 10 points, 29-19, at intermission. But the Bulldogs pulled away in the third quarter, outscoring PHS 20-7 to take command of the contest.
White found solace in the fact that her players battled to keep the game from being a total blowout.
“I had seven girls that did everything they could,” she said, referring to the squad’s lack of depth due to the Savannah Grassel’s season-ending knee injury. “And we were within 20 points for the most part. Now we’ve got work to do for state.”
The top 24 teams in the power rankings qualify for the state tournament unless a team not in the top-24 wins one of the six sectional tournaments.
The top eight seeds earn first-round byes in the state tournament. So No. 9 will face No. 24, No. 10 takes on No. 23, etc. If Payson remains No. 18, they’d meet No. 15 — possibly Goodyear Estrella Foothills, which stood in that spot as of Wednesday. Payson was competitive in a 54-46 overtime loss to the Wolves at Wilson Dome on Jan. 7.
Of course, the rankings will probably change after Saturday’s section tournament championship games. Estrella Foothills beat Parker in the Section II semifinals and will meet No. 27 Yuma Catholic for the section title.
Sophomores Tessa Hintze and Arissa Paulson led the offense against Winslow. Hintze scored 16 points and Paulson 12.
“That’s impressive,” White said of Hintze’s performance against the Bulldogs. “That’s a win.”
Halle Hayes poured in a game-high 20 points for Winslow, which had eight players score. Marcella Joe chipped in 12 points and Stephanie Begody 10.
The coach said, although the Longhorns certainly would have liked to play for the section tournament championship by upsetting Winslow, they’ll welcome the seven-day reprieve from game action.
“They need a break,” White said.
“They’re tired. So they’ll get (Wednesday) off and be back at it Thursday and Friday.”
They’re looking forward to Wednesday’s game, which will be played at the home of the high seed, meaning PHS will be playing on the road.
“We’re excited,” White said. “We’re ready.”
Winslow (21-4) advances to meet second-seeded Snowflake for the section tournament title at 5 p.m. Saturday at Show Low. The Lobos (17-9) beat third-seeded Holbrook 69-52 in Tuesday’s early semifinal. Winslow beat Snowflake last week to win the Section IV regular-season title by one game over the runner-up Lobos.
Winslow 66, Payson 43
Payson 43 — Tessa Hintze 7 1-3 16, Harley Turney 3 0-0 6, Cori Barnett 0 7-14 7, Arianna Paulson 1 0-0 2, Arissa Paulson 3 6-9 12, Sara Novack 0 0-2 0, Sadie Dunman 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 14-28 43.
Winslow 66 — Michaela Bia 2 0-0 5, Marcella Joe 3 6-7 12, Stephanie Begody 4 2-3 10, Jacey Sangster 3 1-2 8, Tannon Tom 1 0-2 2, Halle Hayes 7 5-5 20, Shandiin Armao 1 0-0 2, Lynnae Mitchell 1 0-0 3, Kaelyn Bitsoi 0 0-0 0, Erica Jodie 2 0-0 4. Totals 24 14-19 66.
Payson 5 14 7 17 — 43
Winslow 15 14 20 17 — 66
3-point goals — P: Hintze. W: Bia, Sangster, Hayes, Mitchell.