It sports only 1-6 credentials, but during a 63-61 loss to the Holbrook Roadrunners Tuesday in Wilson dome, the Payson High School boys' basketball team proved it can be competitive in the torrid East division.
The game goes down in the "L" column, but by playing on even terms with the Roadrunners -- a team that returned all its players from last season --the Horns took giant steps along the path to respectability.
Coach Randy Wilcox, in his second year at the helm of the hoop program, says he was happy with the team's effort but almost equally as gratified by the return of several players who have been either injured, ineligible or suspended.
"This is the first time this season the whole team has dressed out for a game," he said.
Basketball purists would be quick to point out that the Longhorns could have come away with an upset win had they been a bit more accurate at the free-throw line. There, the team hit only five of the 13 charity tosses.
Holbrook made good on 11 of 16 of their free throws which represents a six-point team differential -- more than the final score separated the two schools.
But, Wilcox says other factors played into the team's loss.
"It would be easy to blame the free throws, but with 47 turnovers, it's tough to win," he said.
Because the Horns have only one veteran player with varsity experience, Joe Sanchez, turnovers have plagued the team the entire season.
Wilcox has said that playing time and attention to detail will improve that aspect of Payson's execution of the fast-break offense.
The highlight of the game for Horns fans might have been the tenacity the team showed during Holbrook's 25-point second-quarter scoring binge.
"We got down by 16 points, but then fought back to within two," Wilcox said.
After the slow start, Payson outscored Holbrook 32-23 in the second half.
Wilcox attributed the turnaround to a tenacious defense that produced 17 steals.
Also instrumental in the late surge of the Rim squad was the fourth-quarter scoring of junior center Sterling White.
After being held to only two points in the opening three quarters, White hit four field goals in the final 12 minutes to pace the rally. But about the only scoring help White received in the fourth quarter run was a three-ball from Joe Sanchez and five points from senior Keith Stevens.
It came up short of producing enough points for a win but the Horn offense was well rounded with seven players shouldering the scoring load. Stevens led all with 12 points and Sanchez had 11.
Stevens also led in rebounding with nine.
Andrew Easton, David Shaw and Sterling White contributed 10 points each. Easton proved to be the floor general dishing out nine assists.
Also scoring were Brad Bynum and David LaForge who finished with four apiece.
The Horns 44-percent shooting from the field wouldn't leave most prep teams jumping for glee as if they'd won the state championship, but it was Payson's best mark of the young season.
"It doubles our team average," Wilcox said.
After taking a brief respite from the practice routine for the Christmas holiday, the Horns return to play Dec. 28 and 29 at the Camp Verde Tournament. Game times will be announced late this week.