For seven Longhorn baseball players, the disappointment of opening round elimination from the state tournament finally eased a bit.
The tension reliever to help remedy the woes created by the 12-2 thumping administered by Safford came in the form of the selection of the All-East Region teams.
The squads are chosen in a voting of regional head coaches at season's end.
Since the team is voted on by opposing coaches who have viewed playing performances all season, selection to the team is one of the highest forms of praise a prep athlete can receive.
The Horns, who finished 15-12-1 overall and 8-4 in the region, had Cade Bradley, Nick Brunson and Bryan Zumbro tapped to the first team.
On the second all-East team were Scotty Garduno and Tyler Pettet. Ky Bradley and Cory McRae received honorable mention honors.
As seniors, Bradley, Brunson and Zumbro are also eligible to play in the prestigious Arizona Coaches Association North vs. South All-Star game this summer in Casa Grande.
Those celestial squads will be chosen May 21 at Phoenix Sunnyslope High School.
Longhorn coach Teddy Pettet said he would nominate all three athletes for the star wars.
The first team
Because he was a returning veteran off the 1999 PHS state championship team, the season opened with great promise for Cade Bradley.
Boasting loads of savvy, big-time playing experience and talent, Bradley was counted to be one of the team leaders as the Horns tried to nail down a second successive state crown.
But only days into the new campaign, Bradley broke his ankle in a basketball incident and was sidelined for most of the early season.
About the midway point of the season, Bradley returned to the lineup to eventually play in 18 of the Horns' 28 games.
Although he was rusty upon his return, Bradley soon regained his hitting form to finish with a .438 batting average. In 48 at-bats, he scored 19 runs, had 17 RBIs and six extra base hits.
On the base paths, he was four-for-four in steal attempts.
Defensively, his return to the Longhorn infield helped provide depth and experience.
Although he's diminutive in size at 5 foot, 6 inches and 140 pounds, Nick Brunson was a huge part of the Longhorn baseball program the past two seasons.
In last year's state championship game, he made several big-time catches in the outfield to help the Longhorns earn the Class 3A title.
This year, sometimes batting lead-off Brunson finished with a .356 batting average and was the Longhorns' leading base stealing threat with 10 thefts in 12 attempts.
While most of his base hits were singles, Brunson did manage to swat six doubles. He also led the team in drawing bases on balls with 20. Leadership and a sense of humor were intangibles Brunson brought to the team.
Zumbro didn't finish the season with the kind of pitching success he had hoped for, compiling a modest 4-6 record and 3.48 ERA. But when the youngster soon begins packing his bags for the United States Air Force Academy --where he was appointed Monday evening --he can do so knowing he's the player who shouldered almost all the pitching burden in the Horns' four 1999 state tournament victories. Although his 2000 won-loss record was not impressive, he was one of the East Regions strike-out leaders with 79.
In facing 239 batters, he gave up just four home runs and two triples.
Opponents able to hit Zumbro usually had to settle for squibbers through the infield or broken bat singles.
Offensively, Zumbro was the team leader in several categories -- .440 batting average, 33 runs scored, 37 hits, 38 RBIs, two triples and eight home runs.
As evidenced by his low strike-out total of 10, he swung a disciplined bat. When the steal sign was on, he was a perfect five-for-five.
The second team
Tyler Pettet, the coach's son, had a late start into the season while recovering from surgery he underwent immediately after the basketball campaign.
Pettet's reputation at the end of baseball season was one of a rapidly improving right-handed pitcher who thrived on near perfect placement of his offerings.
The youngster, a junior, finished with a 4-2 record, five saves, 1.64 ERA and in facing 177 batters did not give up a home run.
When called upon to contribute on "O," he responded with a strong bat that yielded a .347 batting average.
As the Longhorns' starting shortstop since 1998, Garduno has long anchored the team defense.
With good range and a strong throwing arm, Garduno -- a junior --is able to make plays that would be impossible for many prep infielders.
He also swung potent timber for the Horns, finishing with a .355 batting average that included a team leading 10 doubles. Blessed with good speed, Garduno was always a base-stealing threat,
racking up seven thefts in eight attempts.
His 23 RBIs are also one of the reasons region coaches thought enough of his abilities to select him all-region.
Only a sophomore, Ky Bradley distinguished himself throughout the year, compiling a .405 batting average. His five home runs and 30 RBIs were second only to Zumbro.
Known for his ability to make contact, he struck out just nine times in 74 at-bats.
When he wasn't manning an infield position, Bradley was on the mound. Although his ERA ballooned to 7.71, he managed to post a respectable 3-2 record.
With a year of varsity seasoning now under his sliding pads, Bradley is projected to return next year as one of Payson's top two pitchers.
As the Longhorn's front-line catcher, McRae's chief responsibility was to get the most out of the Horn pitching staff. He responded to the challenge well, coach Pettet often said during the course of the campaign. The youngster finished with a .298 batting average, 17 runs scored, 16 RBIs and one home run.