Although his Longhorn baseball team finished with a mediocre 3-2 record, the three-day Thunderbird Classic Baseball Tournament provided some valuable experience, Payson High coach Teddy Pettet said.
After opening the season Feb. 27 with a 13-2 romp over East rival Alchesay, the team packed their bags two days later and made the five-hour trek to Bullhead City.
There, the excitement of playing in the first tournament of the season quickly turned into disappointment when rain forced cancellation of the Thunderbird opening round.
Friday, the weather cleared and the players were able to take the field.
At first glance, the Horns' opening round foe appeared to be a formidable one, capable of capturing the tournament title.
"We played Southwest High School (El Centro, Calif.)," Pettet said. "With a student body of 1,750, they looked to be one of our toughest opponents."
But, much to the delight of Longhorn players, fans and coaches, Southwest was either overrated or simply had a bad game. In a 10-0 win that was shorted to three innings on the mercy rule, the Horns easily disposed of the Cal crew.
Pettet called it "a surprising win."
Mike Doss received the starting pitching nod and "turned in three great innings to preserve the shut out victory," Pettet said. During his stint on the hill, Doss struck out two, allowed four walks and gave up just one hit.
Offensively, the Horns were led by the hot bats of Waylon Pettet, Ky Bradley and Rob Ochoa.
"They did most of the damage with two hits each," the coach said.
Ochoa also finished with three RBIs.
In the second game of the day, the Horns turned in one of their best efforts of the tournament slipping past Class 4A Flagstaff Coconino 5-4.
Ochoa provided the game winning heroics swatting a bases loaded double in the bottom of the fifth that pushed the winning run across the plate.
Senior Tyler Pettet, the coach's son, started on the hill and went the distance giving up three hits and two walks. In facing 23 hitters, he struck out five and allowed four unearned runs.
Maybe a crown?
With two Thunderbird wins under their sliding pads, the Longhorns appeared to be a legitimate threat to make a run at the tournament title.
But those hopes caved in Saturday morning following a 6-5 loss to the Round Valley Elks. The Horns rebounded later that day to beat Chinle 8-7.
"I cleared the bench and started many of the second string players," coach Pettet said.
After falling behind Chinle 7-2, the Horns came roaring back in the late innings to salvage the one-run victory.
In the team's final game of the tournament, the Horns dropped a 4-1 decision to Flagstaff Sinagua.
"It was a well played contest by both teams," Pettet said.
During five innings of spirited play, the Horns could only muster one hit. On the hill, junior Ky Bradley absorbed the pitching loss despite a very good performance, coach Pettet said.
Unfortunately for Horn faithful, the team suffered a tough loss in a Town-sponsored men's basketball league game played Monday evening. Tyler Pettet, who plays in the league, injured his ankle and Tuesday afternoon could only watch from the sideline as his teammates practiced. His availability for this weekend's Miami Invitational Tournament is uncertain.
If the Horns do not have Tyler available, the team will have to rely on the arms of Doss, Bradley, senior O.J. Siebert and junior Matt Woolwine.
Also at the coaching staff's disposal is a pair of talented freshman performers Mike Barr and Chad McRae. Both saw action in the Thunderbird class against Round Valley and Chinle.
"Barr and McRae gave us a glimpse of what the Horn pitching staff will be like in the future," the coach said. "Both turned in very good performances."
With the varsity team in Miami this weekend, the jayvees will host a twin bill at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. (tomorrow) on the PHS field against the Winslow Bulldogs. There is no admission charge.