The defending state champion Payson Longhorn baseball team will crunch down on the often bitter taste of hardcore 2000 baseball action this weekend against East Region toughies Snowflake and Blue Ridge.
The road to a second successive state baseball title for the Longhorns (1-0 in the East, 6-6-1 overall) travels through Snowflake where the Horns will be today, Friday, for a 3:30 p.m. match.
Tomorrow, the Horns host the Yellow Jackets in an 11 a.m. encounter.
From 1991 to 1997 -- when the schools were members of the fiercely competitive East region -- the baseball rivalry among the schools was very intense.
After Payson was relocated to the Central division three years ago, the tension eased a bit because the outcome of games involving the teams did not count in all-important regional standings.
With Payson returned to the East in last fall's conference realignment, PHS coach Teddy Pettet said he expects the heated rivalry to pick up where it left off.
Preppin' for regionals
Horn players had the opportunity to tune up for the crucial contests in a spring break double-header played March 18 on the campus of Fountain Hills High School.
At FH, Payson whipped Phoenix Christian 12-9, but then lost 11-4 to Stanwood, Wash.
In the win over PC, senior pitching ace Bryan Zumbro (1-2) picked up his first win of the year, pitching in relief of starter Ky Bradley and O. J. Siebert who came in for Bradley in the bottom of the fourth.
In three innings of fireman's duty, Zunbro struck out five and did not allow an earned run.
Zumbro's stellar performance has him on track to returning to the form he demonstrated last season when he almost single-handedly pitched Payson to four state tournament wins and the 3A crown.
Offensively, Longhorn bats heated up for a whopping 18 base hits. Had the team taken advantage of the 14 base runners left stranded, the final score would have been much more convincing than the final three runs.
Sophomore Ky Bradley shouldered most of the offensive load, finishing with two singles and a home run.
Zumbro contributed two singles and a double. With a circuit blast, two runs scored and a stolen base, Scotty Garduno contributed his share to the Horn cause. Senior outfielder Nick Brunson swatted two singles and score runs to finish with what he called a decent game.
Against Stanford, a team visiting Arizona during its spring break recess, the once red-hot bats fell suddenly silent, finishing with just six hits. Garduno led the anemic hit parade with a double and single. Bradley cracked his second round-trip ticket of the day -- a line drive over the left field fence.
Frustrated by Washington's crisp pitching, nine Payson batsmen went down on strikes.
Senior Kacy Parker started on the mound and, after giving up six runs in two innings, was tagged with the loss. Joey Klein relieved in the fourth and Zumbro in the sixth.