A trick play Payson High baseball coach Teddy Pettet used only four times in 15 years has kept the Longhorns in the thick of the East region pennant chase.
The ploy a fake pick-off that fools a base runner into thinking there has been an errant throw to first helped the Longhorns erase Pinnacle's potential game-winning run from the base paths.
The East showdown Friday afternoon at Pinnacle High Schooleventually ended after seven full innings in a 4-4 deadknot.
With the tie, Payson sports 5-4-2 East credentials and remains in the chase for a top-four finish in the region and the resulting berth in the state tournament.
Had the Rim squad suffered a fifth regional defeat by losing to Pinnacle, the Longhorns would have fallen into a distant fifth or sixth place and into a playoff hole they might never have dug themselves out of.
Friday's sister-kisser was not extended into extra innings because the school's baseball facility does not have lights. Newly built Pinnacle where construction continues on the rural, North Phoenix campus is in its first season of prep sports competition.
The deadknot, and another tie that occurred March 27 in Eager against Round Valley, will mostly likely be played off after the regular season wraps up April 27 and before the state tournament begins May 4.
East officials ruled earlier this season that ties are only played off if they have a direct bearing on the final standings and the four teams that receive seeds to state.
"I can't imagine those games won't have a bearing on the playoffs because (the East standings) are so tight," coach Pettet said.
Sleight of hand
Coach Pettet's decision to use the trick play that helped preserve the tie was a last gasp measure.
"It's only done in desperation, but we didn't have anything to lose. They had the winning run on (first) with no outs," the coach said.
In the bottom of the seventh frame, Horn pitcher Tyler Pettet, the coach's son, toed the pitching rubber as if he were setting himself to pitch out of the stretch. Abruptly, he stepped to the back of the mound and uncorked a throwing motion toward first base. Eyeing the pitcher's move, the Pinnacle runner who had a sizable lead off the base scurried back to first.
What the runner didn't know was Tyler had kept the ball hidden in his glove and only faked a throw to the base. As part of the crafty play, first baseman Rob Ochoa dove into the rapidly retreating runner's legs as if he were trying to come up with a wild pick off attempt. That move which forced the runner to protect himself took attention off the direction the ball traveled in alleged pick off.
Ochoa continued to sell the ploy by jumping to his feet and darting toward the first base dugout as if the ball had gotten by him. The Horns dugout jumped cleats-first into the act by chanting "go, go" in the direction of the Pinnacle runner.
The Pinnacle runner fell for it, hook, line and sinker. Possibly believing he was a shoo-in to reach second and maybe could end up at third, the runner steamed down the base path. Tyler retrieved the ball from his glove. His quick toss to shortstop Scotty Garduno, who was covering second base, caught the startled runner by three full steps.
The magic act seemingly breathed life into the Longhorn team that was teetering on the brink of seeing its preseason goal of a state berth fall by the wayside. The play also put the crimp on a Pinnacle rally that was just gaining momentum.
The next two Pinnacle hitters went down in order in end regulation play. Moments later, umpires opted not to extend the game into the eighth inning.
During his stint on the mound, Tyler Pettet (4-2) scattered 10 hits, struck out three and walked three. Of the four runs scored, three were earned.
In addition to his pitching prowess, the senior righthander led the Horns offensively with three hits in three appearances at the plate.
The offensive drama of the game, however, came courtesy of infielder/pitcher Ky Bradley.
The PHS junior's heroics began to unfold in the top of the seven inning with the Horns trailing 4-3.
Facing a 2-out, 1-0 count, Bradley lifted a booming 430-foot home run over the centerfield fence that landed near the Payson travel bus parked in the distance.
As is the case with many clutch homers, Bradley wasn't swinging for the fences.
"I wasn't looking for the home run, I just wanted to get on base because we needed a runner to stay alive," he said.
But the pitch, a belt-high fast ball thrown on the heels of a slow curve in the dirt was simply too tempting for Bradley to pass up.
"I knew I hit (the ball) well, but I didn't know it was a home run until I was about half way down (to first base)," he said. The circuit blast was his fourth of the year.
The Horns return to East region play today (Tuesday) on the PHS diamond against the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets. A jayvee game is slated to begin at 4 p.m. The varsity will play directly after at about 6:30 p.m.
East action continues at 7 p.m. the following day (Wednesday) against the visiting Alchesay Falcons. The regular season wraps up Friday on the PHS diamond against Show Low. Game times are 4 p.m. (jayvees) and about 6:30 p.m. (varsity).