A break-even 3-3 showing in the Miami Invitational Tournament last weekend has Payson High School baseball coach Teddy Pettet wondering if his Longhorn team -- 5-3 overall -- is worthy of its state fourth-place ranking.
"I think (the ranking is) because all the teams that were ranked ahead of us (in preseason) have been losing," he said.
One of the reasons the coach hasn't been able to get a handle on just how good the Horns are is the inconsistency they displayed during the tournament.
In the opener played Thursday in Miami, the Horns were formidable, whipping a highly regarded San Manuel Miners team 9-3. But in the second round, Payson stumbled and fumbled through an 11-6 loss to Class 2A Florence.
Continuing its plague of inconsistency, the Horns fell to Central rival Coolidge, 9-8, but rebounded to edge a very good Seton team, 8-6.
In its final two tournament appearances, Payson lost to Superior, 10-0, but recovered to thump Miami, 17-2.
Offensively, senior Brian Cork emerged from the tournament as the Horns leading hitter with a sterling .586 average.
Others team leaders include Josh McRae (.481), Bryan Zumbro (.481), Jeremy Reynolds (.400), Cade Bradley (.385) and Scotty Garduno (.346).
The Horn offense, coach Pettet said, "can swing the bat with anybody in the 3A conference."
In all-important hurling duties, Marc Bennett's 2.63 ERA and 1-0 record lead all Horn pitchers.
In fashioning 1-1 credentials, Zumbro has a 3.77 ERA. Josh McRae is 2-1 overall (6.18 ERA) and Tyler Pettet 1-0 (3.50 ERA).
If the pitching improves enough to go along with the strong hitting attack, the Horns could prove they are worthy of the lofty state ranking and eventually make a strong run for postseason honors, Pettet said.
If there was a highlight in the Miami fray for Horns' faithful, it had to occur in the game-four win over Seton -- a Class 2A parochial school located in Chandler that traditionally fields a strong baseball program.
For reasons known only to him, coach Pettet -- just minutes before game time -- called upon all-division catcher Marc Bennett to pitch.
Throughout his career, Bennett has pitched only on rare occasions and usually in relief after Pettet has depleted his hurling crew.
Bennett, who is being recruited to play college football as a tight end, responded with what Pettet described "as the most surprising pitching performance of the tournament.
Hurling the best game of his life, Bennett handcuffed a Seton team that went on to win tournament runner-up honors.
In giving up only two earned runs, he allowed just three hits, walked seven and struck out five.
The surprising win was Bennett's first varsity pitching victory.
About the only time the strong-arm, senior experienced difficulty that was of his own doing, occurred in the top of the fifth and final frame when he gave up a walk and a double that ignited a Seton four-run rally.
After center-fielder Brian Cork dropped a routine two-out fly ball that would have ended the game, a Sentinel batter singled home a run to close the Payson lead to 8-5.
With the tying run at the plate, Pettet waved Zumbro in to relieve Bennett.
Zumbro walked the first hitter but then responded with a strike out to end the Seton rally and preserve the victory.
Cork and Walden led the Longhorn offense hitting a pair of three-run home runs. Ty Hulbert tacked on an RBI single and Garduno contributed a nicely executed squeeze bunt.
In addition to Bennett's sterling mound performance, the Horns picked up another gem in the win over San Manuel. In hurling a complete seven innings, McRae gave up but one earned run and scattered three hits.
Exhibiting excellent control, he walked only one and struck out 10.
His performance, coach Pettet said, was "an encouraging sign that gives hope we have another quality starting pitcher to go along with Bryan Zumbro.
Cork led Payson's 11-hit attack with three doubles and three runs scored. Reynolds also had three doubles. Zumbro contributed a two-run circuit blast to lift his home run total to three.
In the tournament finale, Tyler Pettet, the coach's son, scattered four hits to whip Miami and earn his first victory of the season.
The sophomore hurler -- who relies mostly on off-speed pitches -- struck out three and walked one.
Cork paced the offense with a single, double and triple in five appearances at the plate. Zumbro showed good power and speed with two doubles. McRae was perfect at the plate, belting three singles in three at-bats.
The two clash again
The game was a Central Division tune-up for both the Longhorns and Miami, who are scheduled to meet again at 3:30 p.m. today, Tuesday, on PHS field for what is the division opener for both teams.
The Horns, coach Pettet said, will not be at full strength. "We've got kids who are on spring break," he said. "We'll just have to play without them.
Even with a depleted line-up, the Horns shouldn't have any trouble disposing of a Miami team that was dominated during the tournament.
After the Horns took an 11-2 lead at the end of four innings and scored six more in the top of the fifth, the Vandals called it quits on the 10-run rule.
Following the clash with Miami, the Horns take a brief respite for the school district's spring holiday break before returning to action March 23 against Globe. Game time is 3:30 p.m. on the PHS field.