If the Longhorn baseball team (10-6 overall, 3-2-1 in the East) is to regain the state championship won in 1999, coach Teddy Pettet must soon uncover a first-line pitcher who can hurl effectively through regional and state tournaments.
Teams that emerge as champions from state showdowns almost always boast a top-notch hurler capable of limiting the opposition to a minimum of runs while going the distance on the mound.
In the 1999 tournament, Pettet called upon Bryan Zumbro to shoulder much of the pitching load. By skillfully shifting Zumbro's pitching assignments from inning to inning, Pettet was able to get his team through the tournament unscathed. But Zumbro has graduated and is now plying his hurling wares for the United States Air Force Academy.
Throughout the early season, Pettet has scoured his lineup looking for a talented pitcher capable of carrying on where Zumbro left off.
Thus far, only senior Tyler Pettet the coach's son has proven to be reasonably effective during long stints on the hill. With a 4-0 record and a 1.24 ERA, the youngster has provided fans with a glimpse of the stuff needed to lead the Horns to a second state title.
But even he has not been overpowering.
In a 6-6 tie March 17 against Round Valley, the youngster gave up seven hits, three walks and two earned runs in six innings.
In searching for even more pitching prowess, the coach is looking for a player who can shut down the opposition over the course of a full game. He now admits the roster might not have the special player he's looking for. So, he's considering implementing a platoon system in which he'd use three or four pitchers each game.
If the coach does adopt such a scheme, he'll have an ample crew of pitching candidates from which to choose. Those potential pitchers include Mike Doss, Waylon Pettet, Mark Hansen, Ky Bradley, Chad McRae and Matt Woolwine.
Doss, a lanky 6-foot-5-inch senior, has a 4-2 record, but also sports a whopping ERA over six. In a 15-1 loss to Maris High School Saturday in Sedona, Doss was hammered pretty well by the Oregon school.
Bradley, a junior, has been a hard-luck pitcher for the team most of the season. He's pitched well on occasion but sometimes hasn't received the defensive support he needs to be successful. After a 9-5 loss to Blue Ridge March 24, coach Pettet lauded Bradley for pitching a great game. After turning in a yeoman-like pitching effort that saw him scatter eight hits over 5 2/3 innings, Bradley was tagged with the loss.
In a 13-12 win over Pinnacle March 28, Bradley lasted five innings before giving way to Hansen and later Tyler Pettet, who picked up the win in a relief role. If coach Pettet calls upon McRae and Woolwine, he'll have two pitchers who have been used mostly in relief and mop-up roles.
Sophomore Waylon Pettet the coach's nephew may be the unexpected surprise among the hurling candidates. The youngster first showed he might have the talent to be a successful varsity pitcher Saturday in a 13-7 win over Sedona. Hurling six full innings, he picked up his first victory of the season.
Coach Pettet has been reluctant to use Waylon on the mound because of the youngster's inexperience and the fact he's a good outfielder and hitter.
No matter which hurlers the coach decides on, they'll have to be primed and ready for a busy week that has the team playing a trio of games. Two of the contests today (Tuesday) in Show Low and Saturday against Round Valley in Payson are crucial East battles the Horns need to win to remain in the chase for a regional pennant.
Friday, the team travels south to take on Globe of the 3A South region. Although the game will not affect the East standings, a victory over the Tigers would be a prestigious boost for Payson and the East region.
Game time against Show Low and Globe is 4 p.m.; against Round Valley, game starts at 11 a.m.