With spring break at an end and prep athletes returning to the playing field, the Longhorn baseball team (7-3 overall, 1-0 in the East) is primed to slide cleats first into the meat of the 2001 campaign.
During the course of the next four days, the team will lock horns with three of the East region teams expected to challenge Payson for postseason honors.
The rugged regional stretch kicks off today (Tuesday) in Holbrook and continues Friday on the PHS diamond against the highly regarded Snowflake Lobos.
On Saturday, the Horns travel to Lakeside where they are set to take on longtime rival Blue Ridge.
"It's a very big week for us," PHS coach Teddy Pettet said.
Game times against Holbrook and Snowflake are 3:30 p.m. In Lakeside, game time is 11 a.m.
Coach Pettet's game plan today against Holbrook is to start senior right-hander Tyler Pettet on the hill and keep Mike Doss and Ky Bradley in reserve.
The starters in the two following games would depend on the success of the opening game trio, coach Pettet said.
If the Horns can sweep the three-game stand, the team will be in the running toward a berth in the season-ending state tournament.
Anything less than a sweep, and the Horns will probably find themselves in the usual regular-season dogfight that has been the tradition in recent East region title chases.
In tuning up for the crucial regional run, the Horns traveled to Miami last week to participate in the Vandal Invitational Tournament. Much to the chagrin of coach Pettet, the weather didn't cooperate and the Horns weren't able to play in a maximum number of games. That would have afforded the team more opportunities to hone their skills before region play begins.
During two days of the tournament, torrential downpours drenched Miami fields making the diamonds unplayable.
The only games the Horns were able to complete a full six innings were March 8 against Chandler Seton and San Carlos.
Behind the steady pitching of Mike Doss, the Horns edged Seton 7-5. In San Carlos' 14-2 loss to the Longhorns, SC batsmen could never solve the hurling offers of O.J. Siebert, Mike Hansen and Tyler Pettet.
After receiving the starting call against Seton, Doss proved just efficient enough to carry the Horns to the win.
In six full innings, he faced 33 batters, scattered 13 hits and struck out four. By allowing just three bases on balls, he kept Seton from enjoying a big inning
That unusual statistic, which has baseball perfectionists scratching their noggins, is that Payson batsmen pounded out only five base hits and struck out 11 times.
A purist might ask how the Longhorns could pull off a three-run win after being out-hit by a whopping 13-5 margin?
Coach Pettet's answer to that query is that three of the Horns' base knocks were crucial ones that accounted for six of the team's seven runs.
Those hits were a two-run double by Doss in the first, a two-run triple by Garduno in the sixth and Mark Hansen's sixth-inning single that kept a rally alive.
Hansen's single to right field, coach Pettet said, pushed the go-ahead run across the plate and gave the Horns a cushion they never relinquished.
Coach Pettet also lauded Eddie Pritchard for his sixth inning pinch hit sacrifice bunt that set the stage for Hansen and Garduno's heroics.
In the win over San Carlos, senior O.J. Siebert opened on the hill and hurled 2 2/3 innings, giving up one run on one hit.
Hansen relieved and in 1 2/3 innings duplicated Siebert's effort by giving up just one hit and one run.
Facing the minimum of three batters and striking out two, Tyler Pettet mopped up in the final frame.
In the Horns' eight-hit attack, Garduno paced the team with a single, double and three RBIs.
Cory McRae contributed a double, two runs scored and three RBIs in two plate appearances.