Realizing a loss would probably end season-long dreams of a berth in the state tournament, the Longhorn baseball team rallied behind the pitching of Josh McRae and a power-hitting attack to upset the Fountain Hills Falcons 18-8 Tuesday afternoon on PHS diamond.
With the win, the Horns lift their Central Division record to 6-3, tying them with the Globe Tigers for the third and final playoff slot in the division.
Entering Tuesday's game, the Horns stood fourth in the standings, half a game behind the Tigers due to a 1-0 loss to Globe April 16 in Globe.
Since Payson ace Bryan Zumbro had pitched a complete game Friday, Horn coach Teddy Pettet called upon McRae to handle the mound against powerful Fountain Hills. The Falcons were ranked fifth in the state and have been beaten only once in division play.
McRae was on track early as the Horn offense took charge behind a pair of home runs by Jeremy Reynolds and round-trippers by teammates Hunter Walden, Marc Bennett and Zumbro.
However, McRae gave up a grand slam home run mid-way through the game to allow the Falcons to claw their way back into contention. Pettet immediately called for relief help from Walden and Zumbro, who restored order.
The game was ended at the conclusion of five innings on the 10-run rule.
In the heartbreaking one-run loss to Globe, Zumbro turned in one of his best pitching performances. But it was to no avail, as the Payson offense sputtered through a lackluster showing.
In hurling six complete innings, Zumbro gave up only five hits and allowed just one walk. He struck out five and stranded six Tiger base-runners.
The Horns had their best opportunity to score in the third inning after singles by Brian Cork and Zumbro. But base-running errors, a double play and a strikeout ended the threat.
Horn batsmen contributed seven hits but none when runners were on base or in scoring position. Scotty Garduno and Cork had two hits each.
Payson returns to Central Division action Tuesday on the Horn diamond against Eloy Santa Cruz. The Central season wraps up April 28 at Cactus Shadows and April 30 in Coolidge.
If the Horns hold onto the three-seed, the team would open state play 1 p.m., May 7, against the West Division champion on Mariner's Field at the Peoria Sports Complex.