With early season tune-ups at an end, coach Randy Wilcox's Longhorn basketball team is setting its sights on making a run at East region honors.
The players received a sneak peak at the newest member of the East region Pinnacle last night in Wilson Dome (results not available at press time).
A win over the newly-opened school which didn't field football or wrestling teams in its first year of operation would get the Horns off and running in the three-month East title chase.
The race to the big dance reaches its peak at the regional championship tournament Feb. 6 and 7.
If the Horns earn at least a fourth-place regional finish, the team would advance to the state tournament Feb. 13 and 14.
Before all-important East wars open in earnest, Wilcox had the opportunity to preview his players at the Ames Ford Shoot contested Nov. 30 to Dec. 1 in Winslow.
In the tournament, Wilcox said, "We played four games in three days ... it was a lot of good experience."
Finishing with a 2-2 record, the team almost equaled its victory output of last year when it won three games.
Tournament victories in Winslow included a 67-65 win over Phoenix Camelback and a 77-52 thumping of Camp Verde.
The Horns dropped a hard-fought 62-56 decision to Globe and were soundly thumped, 80-49, by powerful Tuba City.
The shoot outs
The narrow triumph over Camelback, Wilcox said, "was a good win for us" since it signaled the Horns could play on the same court with "big school" Class 5A teams.
The victory sneaker, however, might have been on the other foot had it not been for junior guard Ky Bradley's clutch free throw shooting.
With six seconds remaining and his team clinging to a precarious 65-63 lead, Bradley was fouled and awarded two charity shots.
Wilcox might have been sweating bullets seeing a player at the line who had earlier in the game misfired on three of four free throws.
But this time around, Bradley calmly and cooly rattled in both freebies to put the Horns up 67-63.
With the four-point lead, the Horns backed off on defense to allow the clock to run out and not give the Phoenix players any additional scoring opportunities.
Camelback tallied a final two-point basket, but it wasn't enough to overcome the lead built by Bradley's heroics.
Scoring honors in the triumph went to senior Sterling White who used his 6 foot, 4 inch height to maneuver inside for baskets.
Brad Bynum contributed 17 points and Mike Doss added 11 to the Horn cause.
In the tournament-opening win over Camp Verde, the Horn arsenal was simply too powerful for the outmanned Cowboys.
About the only answer CV had for Payson muscle was the 27 points put up by Manuel Guzman.
With CV relying on a one-player effort, the Horns were flourishing behind a well-rounded offensive attack that saw all 12 players score.
Top honors again went to White with 15 points. Doss finished with 13 and Tyler Pettet had 11.
Against Globe, the Horns just missed a golden opportunity to depart Winslow with three victories. A four-quarter collapse spelled the demise of Payson hopes for a triumph, Wilcox said.
"We should have beat them," he said. "We were ahead most all the game."
After building a 36-30 halftime lead, Payson found itself clinging to a 48-46 cushion early in the fourth quarter.
A solid offensive and defensive effort would have carried the Horns to victory, Wilcox said, but "we stopped playing team ball."
The Tigers, meanwhile, took advantage of Payson's mental lapses to outscore the Horns 16-8 over the course of the final period.
With six points in the final 10 minutes, David LaForge was about the only PHS player to contribute offensively in the drought.
"He worked real hard," Wilcox said.
LaForge and teammate Bynum dead-knotted for team scoring honors with 15 points each. Tyler Pettet finished with nine points but was held scoreless in the second half.
The loss to Tuba City, a perennial state tournament qualifier, turned into a blowout early when TC jumped out to a 20-12 lead.
Playing its second tournament game of the day, Payson players looked dog tired, Wilcox said. "They were just a lot quicker than us they pressed (defensively) and shot the threes."
TC thrived from outside the 19 foot, 9 inch arc, hitting eight three balls, four of which were put up by sharpshooting LaVar Martin.
By halftime, the Warriors had built a 37-23 and were well on their way to a convincing triumph.
Mike Doss (13 points) and Matt Woolwine (11) were the only PHS players to reach double figures.