Coach Randy Wilcox might soon be checking out the want ads in search of a snake charmer to counsel the Longhorn boys' basketball team.
In two recent games, his snake-bit squad has been unable to score in the final seconds of winnable games. Those losses have rendered Wilcox anxious to cure the venomous problem before the Central Division tournament tips off Feb. 12 at Arizona Boys Ranch.
The most recent serpentine striking occurred Jan. 23 in Wilson Dome where the Horns lost a 57-56 thriller to Central rival Cactus Shadows.
Three days earlier also in Payson, the Horns dropped an 88-86 nail-biter in overtime to another division foe -- the Coolidge Bears.
Sandwiched between the two viperous losses was a 96-45 win over the Miami Vandals. But even that victory didn't do much to heal the puncture wounds inflicted by the loses to CS and Coolidge.
Wilcox said he was frustrated by the defeats especially in light of the fact the Horns had last gasp attempts to win both but neither were successful.
In the one-point loss to Cactus Shadows, a bucket in the final 12 seconds by Cactus scoring-ace Dirk Walker erased Payson's 56-55 lead.
Following the shot, a time-out was signaled to set up a last-gasp Payson attempt.
The strategy in the huddle, Wilcox said, was to inbound the ball to Jeremy Reynolds at about mid-court and allow him to dribble drive to the hoop for a shot or draw a foul and free throw attempt. "He's our best free throw shooter," the coach said.
But the ensuing inbound pass drew Reynolds further from the basket than Wilcox would have liked.
After the short pass, the Payson player began the time-consuming drive to the basket and was quickly surrounded by defenders near the key. He was never able to launch a possible winning shot.
"We could have run that better," Wilcox said.
Assistant coach Teddy Pettet said, "It was a game we could have won."
As exasperating as the loss was, it might not have been as tough to absorb as the two-point defeat at the paws of the Bears.
At the conclusion of regulation, the two teams were dead knotted 77-77. In the final minute of the extra period, the Bears took a two-point lead behind the play of Terrance Gant who finished with 24 points, six of them in OT.
Again Payson had seconds left on the clock for a possible game-tying or winning shot. This time, the play was called for senior point guard Hunter Walden who had matched Gant's 24 points.
With time running out, Walden launched a three-pointer that would have given the Horns a much-needed victory.
Much to the chagrin of Horns fans and delight of Bears faithful, Walden's shot misfired off the backboard.
The Horns arsenal was out of time and ammunition.
A pair of losses to teams in the hunt for the Central Division championship is not what Wilcox and Pettet were hoping for when the crucial week of play opened. But, an even more crucial blow to Horns title hopes might have occurred in the first half of the loss to Cactus Shadows, when Walden went down with a knee injury while attempting a jump-stop.
The extent of the injury is unknown until the swelling goes down and he can consult with a specialist. But, Wilcox said, he was not optimistic that his star point guard will return soon. Walden could miss the central or state tournaments if the injury doesn't respond to treatment.
An All-Central Division performer last year, Walden has been the Horns leading scorer in most games and only a week ago tied the school's assist record.
"Losing him would be a big blow," Wilcox said.
Without Walden, the coach will search for scoring help and might find it in Reynolds or Jeremy Hoff.
During the course of last week's trio of games, Reynolds was especially active offensively, tallying 19 against Coolidge, 16 vs. Miami and 18 vs. Cactus Shadows.
In the win over Coolidge, Hoff finished with 30 points -- the most scored by an individual PHS player this season. Hoff had 11 in the win over Miami and seven against Cactus Shadows.
Other first-aid on "O" could come from senior forward Jason Carroll who struggled to a slow start due to an ankle injury that sidelined him most of the early season. Carroll came alive against Miami with eight points.
The Longhorns will return to Central Division action and pursuit of a state tournament berth at 7 p.m. this evening (Friday) in Wilson Dome against Fountain Hills.
The game will be preceded by both freshman (4 p.m.) and jayvee (5:30 p.m.) contests.