The Longhorns can beat any softball team in the state when they play the way they’re capable of playing.
They didn’t do that on Saturday.
Pitching ace Raci Miranda did her best to give her team a chance, but five errors doomed third-seeded Payson as No. 14 Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian upset the Longhorns 3-2 in the first round of the 3A state tournament at Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix.
It’s the third consecutive year the Longhorns have lost in the opening round.
Miranda scattered seven hits and added 10 strikeouts to her state-leading total. She didn’t walk anyone. Only one of the Lions’ runs was earned. All three runs came in a disastrous top of the fifth when Payson committed four errors.
Pusch Ridge managed to score three runs in the inning on just two hits.
Kyrie Denny dominated Payson batters. The freshman scattered five hits with 14 strikeouts. She didn’t walk anyone.
Raci Miranda’s two-out single in the fourth broke up her no-hit bid, but the only other hit by the Longhorns in the first six innings was a two-out single by Chanci Landress. Landress returned to action after missing four games with an injured ankle.
The Longhorns (20-9 overall, 15-5 power points) showed their heart in the bottom of the seventh, threatening to rally to at least force extra innings.
Raci Miranda led off with her second single of the game. Kara Percell singled with one out and Makyla Hill came through with a two-out two-run single. However, she was caught in a rundown between first and second base to end it.
Pusch Ridge was ranked 17th in the state before winning 19-5 at No. 16 Chino Valley in a state tournament play-in game on Wednesday to move up to No. 14 in the final 16-team bracket.
As the No. 3 team in the final rankings, the Longhorns earned one of eight automatic berths in the state tournament.
But they bowed out in the first round for the third consecutive season. And this one was similar to last year’s first-round loss by the No. 6 Longhorns to No. 11 Sahuarita, which went on to win the state championship. They committed at least eight errors in that one to spoil a great pitching performance by Kalea Smith in that eight-inning loss.