Can the Longhorn baseball team play on the same lofty level as unbeaten and state top-ranked Cactus Shadows?
That question will be answered at 3:30 p.m. this afternoon (Tuesday) on the Payson High School baseball field when the high flyin' Falcons bring their prep juggernaut to the Rim country.
The Longhorns, 12-4 overall, 4-1 in the Central Division and ranked sixth in the state, aren't exactly chopped liver.
But whether the Horns have the talent to contend with vaunted Cactus Shadows, the Central Division leader at 6-0, is a question that has been stirring in baseball circles since the season opened Feb. 25.
With a stellar defense, excellent pitching, adequate hitting and a proven coach in Scott Cook, the defending Class 3A state champions have been at the top of their game all season.
On the way to its 1998 state crown, Cactus Shadows beat a very good Payson team twice. And that Horn squad boasted two players -- Bryan Zumbro and Hunter Walden -- who combined for a state-record 33 home runs.
Zumbro and Walden are back but are not ripping home runs at the record-setting pace they once were.
The pair still swing big sticks for the Horns, usually from the second and third slots in the batting order. But as potent as the two are offensively, Zumbro and Walden are now also being counted upon for their pitching ability.
Zumbro is the Horns' first-line hurler and will probably earn the start against Cactus Shadows. Walden, an ace pitcher during his Little League days, has re-emerged on the mound. In a 23-11 win over Miami April 9, Walden pitched a full inning in relief and struck out two of the four batters he faced.
Josh McCray started and lasted 2 2/3 innings after giving up 10 runs, only four of which were earned.
Tyler Pettet, the sophomore son of Longhorn head coach Ted Pettet, relieved in the bottom of the third with two outs and runners on at first and second. The youngster ended the Vandal threat on a fly ball to center field.
Tyler Pettet eventually gave way to Walden because of a tiring arm. Only two days earlier, he pitched seven full innings in a Horn jayvee victory over Coolidge.
Longhorn hitting honors in the thumping of Miami were posted by senior slugging star Jeremy Reynolds, who etched his name in the record books.
With five hits, Reynolds tied the school's consecutive-hit mark first set by his coach. In 1975, as a Longhorn sophomore, Ted Pettet established the school record of five. Two years later he tied his mark. One year after Pettet departed PHS for college, in 1978, David Banbury again tied the mark.
Reynolds is the first player to tie the mark in the 21 years since.
Among Reynolds' hits were two home runs and three singles. He also had four RBIs.
Horn catcher Marc Bennett, who has signed to play football at Truman State in Missouri, was 4-for-5 at the place with a home run, a double and four RBIs.
The Horns' Scotty Garduno was 3-for-5.
In a 15-5 Central Division win over Coolidge, April 6 in Payson, Reynolds again carried the hot bat for the Horns with two singles in three trips to the plate. He was the only Payson player with more than one hit.
Zumbro was the winning pitcher after flirting with a no-hitter through his 3 2/3 inning stint on the mound. In striking out three and walking two, the only base knock Zumbro allowed came in the top of the fourth when Randy Youtsey -- better known for his basketball skills for the state champion Bears -- ripped a double.
Randy Vela, Jason Carroll and Walden mopped up in relief for the Longhorns.
In addition to his contributions on the hill, Zumbro swatted a booming fourth-inning home run over the left field fence and finished with three RBIs.