A 7-0 Fountain Hills’ run in the final two minutes of play Tuesday night in Wilson Dome ended the Longhorn boys basketball team’s hopes of springing an upset over the highly-favored Falcons.
Toughest for fans, players and coach Mike Loutzenheiser to absorb was the fact the Horns were leading, 60-58, and in possession of the ball with 1:58 to go, but couldn’t score.
During the late drought, the Horns were without the services of two of the team’s best players Jake Swartwood and Nick Cassuto. Both were relegated to the bench midway through the fourth quarter after picking up five fouls.
“With Nick and Jake both fouled out of the game, I had only one starter from last year on the floor,” Loutzenheiser said.
“I just didn’t have enough experience out there.”
Cassuto was the player the Horns turned to all night when they were in trouble. The senior forward finished with 14 points, two steals, one assist and a team-high 12 rebounds.
The Longhorns other go-to player, Derek Daniels, tallied a game-high 19 points. With six assists, Daniels also was an adept floor general from his point-guard position.
Kyle Hubbard (11 points), Chris Donaldson (5) and Nate Perna (3), also contributed offensively.
Dogs caged in season opener
A solid season-opening performance last week against the perennially tough Winslow Bulldogs has the Payson High School boys basketball team believing they can play on even terms with the best of the 3A conference.
In the homestanding Longhorns’ 52-46 victory over Winslow Nov. 26, proof that the Horns have the all-important front court to battle in the East could be found in the performances of senior forwards Nick Cassuto and Jake Swartwood.
Cassuto finished with a team-high 14 points and Swartwood battled his way in the low post for 13.
Cassuto’s offensive effort was highlighted by a perfect 8-for-8 evening at the free-throw line.
If Cassuto and Swartwood hadn’t been able to take control of the boards, Winslow’s Ron Hoover would have made Payson’s evening a long one.
Showing a hot hand most of the night, Hoover finished with a game high 22 points. In the first quarter, Hoover single-handedly kept the Dogs barking by hitting a trio of three-point bombs.
Following that barrage, the Horn defense held Hoover to just one other three-point shot. He did, however, make good on four of five free throws.
With Hoover heating up the nets, the Horns had to scramble most of the first three quarters to maintain two- and three-points leads.
Early in the fourth, with the Horns clinging to a precarious 39-36 cushion, Payson uncorked a 16-7 scoring advantage to nail down the win. Derek Daniels’ three-pointer and two free throws in the final eight minutes proved to be the catalyst for the come-from-behind effort.
Daniels finished with nine points. Starting guard Kyle Hubbard contributed six.
Chris Donaldson and Nate Perna chipped in with four each.
Early in the season, coach Mike Loutzenheiser said Perna was his key reserve. Perna did not play basketball last season, but his solid performance against Winslow validated the coach’s confidence in him.
After losing Mike Barr, Waylon Pettet and Trevor LaHaye early in the season, the Horns appeared to have suffered about all the bad luck any prep team could absorb. But more bad news turned up when reserve guard Cort Connolly suffered an ankle injury in a recent practice and could be lost for up to six weeks.
The Longhorns (1-1) return to action at 7 p.m. tonight (Friday) in Wilson Dome against the Camp Verde Cowboys.
The game will be preceded by a junior varsity contest at 6 p.m.
Tournament action is on tap Dec. 12, 13 and 14 when Payson travels to Mohave High School to compete in a holiday invitational.