After opening the season in dismal 0-5 fashion, the Longhorn boys' basketball team finally experienced the thrill of victory with a 51-48 overtime win over River Valley.
But, the Payson triumph -- which came Dec. 4 in the team's fourth game of the Winslow Bulldog Invitational Tournament -- would not have been possible had it not been for the last-second heroics of Tyler Pettet and Joe Sanchez.
Trailing 41-39 in regulation and the clock ticking down to the final five seconds, Pettet corralled a loose ball at the River Valley end of the floor. Sensing the urgency of the situation, he turned and uncorked a more-than-half-court pass to Joe Sanchez who was steaming toward the basket unchecked, coach Randy Wilcox said.
Sanchez caught up with the perfectly thrown pass, dribbled twice and scored on a lay-up to tie up the game only seconds before the final buzzer sounded.
In overtime, Andrew Easton and David Shaw scored four points each and Pettet contributed three to finally put an end to the dreaded winless streak.
Easton finished as the leading scorer with 11 points. Also contributing to the Horn cause were Keith Stevens (10), Pettet (8), Shaw (8) and Brad Bynum (7).
The victory, Wilcox said, couldn't have come at a better time since the young Horns need all the confidence they can muster before the rigors of divisional play unfolds. East action tips off at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday), in Whiteriver where the Horns will take on the highly regarded Alchesay Falcons.
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Thankfully for frustrated Horns fans, the Rim hoop crew was able to escape from the Bulldog tournament with a victory. But the team was also rocked for a trio of losses in the three-day fray.
Payson opened the tournament with a 83-63 loss to Chino Valley and the downslide continued with losses to Snowflake, 78-39, and Camp Verde 62-52.
Heavily damaging the Horns' hopes for a good showing in upcoming East play was the loss to Snowflake since the Lobos are one of the division rivals Payson must contend with in the battle for a season-ending state tournament berth.
Losing to the Lobos by a whopping 39-point margin is not what PHS coach Randy Wilcox says he was hoping for when the tournament opened.
But, the coach was handcuffed in his efforts since he had only six players available for playing duty.
Academic ineligibility, discipline enforcement, illness and a player absent because he was elk hunting depleted the varsity line-up. Much to the coach's and fans' chagrin, the roster was a far cry from what it was at season's beginning when it sported 12 players.
At one point in the loss to Snowflake, Wilcox had only four players on the floor because one had fouled out and another was ill and recovering in a nearby restroom.
With the lack of player-power, about the only scoring threat Wilcox had at his disposal was senior Keith Stevens who finished with 16 points. Nolan Blalok chipped in with eight and Ty Bennett had six.
The tournament fray against Camp Verde will go down in the record books as a 10-point loss but it also was a contest that was easily winnable, Wilcox said.
After a see-saw three quarters of play, the Horns led 42-40 and were on the verge of celebrating their first "W."
However in the fourth and final stanza, the Cowboys roped and tied the Longhorns with a 22-10 scoring advantage that ended Payson's hopes for a post-game celebration.
The Horn offense was led by Easton who finished with 15 points. However, just two of those came in the crucial fourth quarter. Pettet poured in 11 points and Bennett had 10.
In the loss to Chino Valley, a third-quarter scoring drought spelled the demise of a Longhorn team that remained in contention at half-time, trailing only 40-28.
But by the time fourth-quarter play had begun, Payson trailed 65-45 and was never in position for a stretch run.
Stevens led all scores with 13 points and Easton had 12.
Bennett, Bynum, Sanchez and Sterling White all contributed eight each.