After watching his team drop back-to-back, weekend East region contests --4-0 to Snowflake, 14-13 to Blue Ridge -- Longhorn baseball coach Teddy Pettet is ready to stamp today's clash against Round Valley as crucial.
"It's at least that," he said.
Game time against the Elks is 3:30 p.m. on PHS diamond.
Now 2-2 in the East (7-8 overall), the defending state champion Longhorns find themselves teetering on the edge of an abyss. A loss would result in a less than .500 record and although it's early in the season, the Horns would be facing quick extinction from the East chase.
However, a win over Round Valley would be the shot in sliding pads the team needs to regain the winning ways of last season.
Because Payson is new to the East after toiling for two years in the now defunct Central region, Pettet said he knows little about longtime East member Round Valley except they are a solid club.
Against RV, Bryan Zumbro will receive the starting pitching nod from Pettet.
Last season as a junior, Zumbro was a one-man pitching machine hurling the Horns to four state tournament wins.
But this year, he's struggled out to a 2-3 record including the one-run loss to Blue Ridge Saturday on PHS field.
The youngster's pitching woes are not entirely of his own making. Often, the team's porous defense contributes to the demise. A shining example was against Blue Ridge when the Horns committed six errors, all of which led to Yellow Jackets runs.
"Everyone of those (errors) cost us," Pettet said. "We have to play better defense."
During his four-inning stint on the mound, Zumbro gave up eight runs, only two of which were earned.
As a rock-steady right-hander with loads of experience, Zumbro usually has good command of his fastball, curveball and changeup. He admits, however, that he didn't have his best stuff throwing against the Jackets.
"When you hit the first batter, that's not a good sign," he said.
The good news in the loss is the resiliency the team showed after being one strike away from having the game ended on the 10-run rule.
With BR in command at 12-2 in the bottom fifth, Ky Bradley's two-out single scored Zumbro from second to keep the Longhorns in contention.
The Horns went on to rally for eight runs, but it was a case of too-little, too-late for the Rim country diamond men.
No offense in Lobo land
In Snowflake Friday, the Horns' two-game weekend slide began with the four-run loss to Snowflake.
The only offense the Longhorns could muster were Nick Brunson's single to right and an infield hit by junior shortstop Scotty Garduno.
The team's struggles at the plate, Pettet said, centered on a lack of aggressiveness rather than great Lobo pitching.
"We just watched a lot of pitches go by," he said. "Of the nine strikeouts (on) five, we were just watching."
Pitching chores were handled by Tyler Pettet, the coach's son, who just returned to the lineup after recovering from recent surgery. In seven full innings, he gave up seven hits, walked two and struck out two.
After allowing three runs in the first inning, Pettet settled into a steady pitching performance in which he coughed up just one other run.
Following today's game against Round Valley, the Horns will return to action Friday in a nonregional match against Sedona. Game time is 3:30 p.m. on PHS diamond.
East action resumes at 4 p.m. April 4 on PHS field against the Show Low Cougars.