No matter how the defending state champion Longhorn baseball team fares in this week's Miami Invitational Tournament, players can revel in the knowledge they are off and running in the chase for an East championship.
The Horns, now 1-0 in the region, nailed down the all-important jump start by soundly thrashing East rival Alchesay 24-3 in the season opener played Feb. 29 on Payson High field.
The convincing victory over the outmanned Falcons was just what the young Longhorns needed, coach Teddy Pettet said.
"If we had to begin the season with a (region) game, we definitely wanted to start with a team like Alchesay," the coach said. "Some of their best players still hadn't turned out because they were playing in the state basketball tournament."
Without their top-line athletes, Alchesay's hurling was sporadic at best.
"We racked up 15 hits and 13 walks. Their pitching was very weak," Pettet said.
For senior outfield Nick Brunson, a veteran starter returning from last year's gold-medal team, the triumph turned into a ho-hum affair.
"Actually, it was boring -- not much competition," he said.
After a nine-run first inning, the Horns continued to pour it on, scoring 12 more in the second allowing umpires to mercifully end the blowout on the 10-run rule after 4 1/2 innings.
In addition to keeping the Horn express on track in the East run to gold, the laugher turned out to be a perfect opportunity for the Payson players to fatten their batting averages.
None took more advantage of Alchesay's fat mound offerings than did senior infielder Cade Bradley.
Batting second in the line-up, Bradley finished four-for-four at the plate with five runs scored, four RBIs, one home run and seven total bases.
Also on the receiving end of the Falcon hurling generosity was junior Scotty Garduno. In five trips to the plate, Garduno swatted three doubles, scored two runs and was credited with a game-leading five RBIs.
Tyler Pettet, the coach's son, and Cory McRae finished with two hits each.
Tyler Pettet was also credited with the pitching win after hurling the first two innings. During his appearance, he gave up one hit, struck out two and stranded one Falcon baserunner.
Opting to give his pitching staff valuable game experience, coach Pettet relieved first with Joey Klein and then Ky Bradley.
In two inning, Klein faced 11 batters and gave up one run on three hits.
Ky Bradley, a sophomore, allowed two runs on two hits in one full inning of mop-up duty.
Defensively, the Horns committed two errors which was a commendable effort for a season opener, Pettet said. "We actually played very well on defense."
The Longhorns will not return to East region action until March 21 when Holbrook visits Longhorn field for a 3:30 p.m. encounter.
By then, Pettet said, he should have his team fully evaluated and be able to field a team capable of making a run at a second-successive state title.
This week's tournament in Miami, he said, "will go a long way in determining what our line-up will be."
The Horns open the Miami diamond shoot-out March 8 against San Carlos.
Action continues Thursday against Florence and Friday vs. Coolidge. Saturday, the Horns play both Superior and Miami.
Game time for the weekday contest is 3:45 p.m. Saturday games will be played at 11:15 a.m. and 6 p.m. The tournament will be played on Vandal field at Miami High School.