Payson High School baseball coach Teddy Pettet, who this season led the Longhorns to the state championship, has been honored as "Coach of the Year" by a Phoenix newspaper and a state coaching association.
In Sunday's edition of the Arizona Republic, the newspaper's sports staff tapped Pettet as the "Small School Coach of the Year." Small schools are those in the 1A, 2A and 3A ranks.
Only days before the Republic's honor was bestowed, members of the Arizona Baseball Coaches' Association chose Pettet the Class 3A Coach of the Year.
The honors have subjected him to a load of good-natured teasing from friends and fellow coaches, but Pettet says the recognition means a great deal to him.
"This whole thing is like a dream," he said. "What a great ride."
The run to glory
At the onset of the campaign, the Horns were ranked as high as fifth in the weekly coaches' state poll, but after dropping two tournament games to Joseph City and Alchesay, Payson fell out of the rankings and were never seen again.
"Those two losses were a wake-up call for us, but we knew we were a great team," Pettet said.
At the conclusion of the regular season, Pettet took his squad, which had finished 8-4 and tied for third in the Central Division, to Gilbert for a three-way playoff with Globe and Fountain Hills. In five-inning mini-games, the Tigers and Horns both whipped FH and emerged as the Central's two seeds to state.
Payson and Globe flipped a coin for the second seed which the Tigers won.
As the coin-toss loser, Payson entered the state fray May 7 as the Central Division's third and final qualifier behind Globe and undefeated division champion Cactus Shadows.
Few expected the Longhorns to own much of a chance in the opening round against state third-ranked West Division champion, River Valley, which was considered a strong contender for the state title.
But behind Pettet's urgings, the Horns ran out to an 8-0 victory. During the win, Pettet astutely manipulated his mound assignments by using relief pitcher Hunter Walden to save as many innings as possible for his ace hurler, Bryan Zumbro. High school rules dictate a pitcher can only hurl 11 innings in two days, and Pettet wanted Zumbro to be available for a second round game that was played the following day.
The ploy worked perfectly as Zumbro pitched Payson to a 5-4 quarterfinal victory over Safford and into a berth in the state semifinals.
One week later at the Peoria Sports Complex, Pettet staged an instant replay of the tournament's opening two rounds, pulling Zumbro early from a 14-0 shellacking of the Winslow Bulldogs.
Again, he wanted to save his No. 1 pitcher to use against Cactus, who was on a 35-game winning streak and had run-ruled the Horns twice during the season.
Fans said the results could be mailed in, that Cactus was a sure bet to earn a second consecutive state championship. But Pettet was steadfast in maintaining the Horns had a shot. "We are healthy for the first time this year and have our best pitcher," he said.
Rising like the fabled Phoenix out of the ashes, the Horns pulled off the upset of the prep baseball season, beating Cactus Shadows 23-11 behind a torrid hitting attack and a strong late effort from Zumbro.
Showing why he was chosen coach of the year, Pettet refused to yank his ace in the first inning even though the hurler was being shelled for eight runs and fans were clamoring why he was still on the hill.
Cactus Shadows fans got into the act by throwing barb after barb at Zumbro.
The decision to stay with the Payson ace began to pay dividends in the second inning when the junior right-hander settled down and began throwing strikes.
A lesser coach might have panicked and replaced Zumbro, but Pettet maintained he had a feeling his hurler would come around and the offense would spark a come-from-behind win.
"I knew we had a chance. They threw their ace (Casey Huston) but we can hit him," Pettet said.
And hit him they did, unleashing a savage 11-hit barrage in the top of the second inning that produced 12 runs and a state championship game record for runs scored in a single inning.
The game ended after six innings on the ten-run rule.
With the win over Cactus, the Horns finished the season with 23-9 credentials and the first state championship in the history of the baseball program at Payson High School.
As a PHS student in the mid-70s, Pettet was an award-winning player on Coach Tom Meck's Longhorn teams. In 1976, the squad reached the Class B state championship but lost.
Following graduation, Pettet went to college and returned to his alma mater with teaching degree in hand.
As the jayvee baseball coach in 1989, Pettet was focused only on readying his players for future varsity play.
Surprising most everyone, then head coach Bruce Haught resigned his position early in the 1989 season.
Without hesitation, Athletic Director Harry Hochstetler appointed Pettet the new coach. Although a rookie, he responded by guiding the team to the West Division title and a berth in the state tournament. But, the Horns lost in the opening round.
During the next five years the Longhorns were denied post-season play, usually finishing fourth or fifth in the regular season standings. Finally in 1995, the team -- led by sophomore hurler Tom Canale -- ended the state tournament drought by winning the East Division championship.
But the dream of a state crown was quickly doused by a loss to Coolidge in the first round.
Pettet says he will always remember 1996 as the year of lost coin flips. After Payson played its way to a three-way tie for second place in the East, a series of flips were held to determine the division's seeds to state.
In Lakeside, Pettet lost back-to-back coin tosses and Payson fell to the fourth seed. Paired against West division champion and state powerhouse Chino Valley in the opening round, the Horns were KO'd early.
In 1997, Canale was a senior and one of the state's best pitchers -- the year turned out to be a banner one for Pettet's Horns.
By defeating Tuba City and Bradshaw Mountain in the opening two rounds, the Horns advanced to the state semifinals. However, eventual state champion Globe ended Payson's title hopes with a 5-0 triumph.
Last year, the Horns wrapped up the regular season with a third-place finish but lost to eventual state runner-up, Chino Valley, in the first round.
Looking back, Pettet says, there were plenty of obstacles and frustrations along the way, but they've only made this year's ride to the state championship a bit more enjoyable.