Last spring, the Longhorns rode the pitching arm of Bryan Zumbro to Payson High School's first state baseball championship.
This year, the Horns might have to look elsewhere to find the hurling prowess needed to earn a trip to the season-ending big show.
Zumbro, a senior who was rarely injured in four years of playing prep baseball and football, suffered a pulled shoulder muscle in a 21-11 loss to the Show Low Cougars April 4 on PHS diamond. He said he injured his shoulder in the first inning, but tried to continue pitching although he realized it was affecting his delivery.
Sensing his ace was struggling, coach Ted Pettet yanked Zumbro from the hill in the second inning with the Cougars holding an 8-1 lead.
"He could throw, but not pitch," Pettet said.
Only minutes prior to Saturday's game against Round Valley, Zumbro -- who was scheduled to hurl -- bowed out saying the shoulder was still not right.
Pettet replaced Zumbro with his son Tyler, who responded with a sterling pitching performance that fueled a 10-2 victory over the Elks.
With only one game on the schedule for this week -- at 4 p.m. today in Whiteriver against Alchesay -- Zumbro will have more than a full week to recover before he'll be asked to hurl again.
Hopefully, coach Pettet said, by the time the East race heats up against Holbrook (April 18) and Snowflake (April 20), Zumbro will return to his old form.
Zumbro said he's reasonably confident he'll be able to pitch by next week.
"I've been going to physical therapy and it's starting to feel better," he said.
Today against Alchesay, Pettet will call senior Kacy Parker to the mound. The Horns -- 10-10-1 overall and 4-3 in the East -- enter the game having easily disposed of the Falcons 24-3 in the Feb. 29 season opener on PHS diamond.
Who'll take over?
If Zumbro's injury continues to nag him, the Horns might have the pitching relief they are looking for in Tyler Pettet.
The youngster was everything a pitching coach could ask for in the win over Round Valley.
Relying on a fast ball he kept down and away from RV hitters and a decent curve ball, he held the Elks to but five singles. Also, by walking just one and striking out five, he exhibited the control which often eludes prep pitchers.
The effort might have gone for naught, however, had it not been for a little help from the family.
Cousin Waylon Pettet, a freshman left fielder, turned in the defensive gem of the game that thwarted a potential Elk rally. With one out and a runner on at first base, an RV hitter swatted a line shot to left which coach Pettet tagged "a rocket that looked like it would be at least a double."
Running hard and leaping at exactly the right second, Waylon flagged down the line shot much to the chagrin of the disappointed Round Valley bench.
"That saved us at least one run," coach Pettet said.
Round Valley went on to load the bases in the inning and were teetering on the verge of a two-out scoring binge before Tyler Pettet struck out the Elks lead-off hitter on three straight pitches.
In addition to Waylon Pettet's defensive prowess in the outfield, the youngster finished three-for-four at the plate with four RBIs.
Ky Bradley, a sophomore, swatted two doubles in three appearances. Nick Brunson finished three-for-three.
Last week's games marked the welcome return of Cade Bradley to the line-up.
The senior infielder, a veteran member of last year's state championship team, projected to play a leadership role this season. However, he has been sidelined most of the campaign with a broken ankle suffered in a pick-up game.
Coach Pettet said Bradley's return would add more punch to the team's offensive attack and also give him another defensive stalwart he could play at either second or third.