Back-to-back visits to longtime archrivalsis not the ideal way for basketball teams to play their way into the postseason. Such is the case when the Longhorn hoop teams take on Lakeside Blue Ridge Friday and Show Low Saturday.
If most prep coaches had their druthers, schedule makers would sandwich a home game, a day's rest or a nonregional clash between two crucial showdowns.
But that didn't happen for Payson and the Longhorns find themselves facing two games that could have a huge impact in the final East standings when they are finalized early next month.
A pair of weekend wins might be enough for boys coach Mike Loutzenheiser or girls coach Shaun Hardt to do a jitterbug on Show Low's main drag. For either coach, a 1-1 split would be worth a slow waltz. An 0-2 weekend slate, and it's turn out the lights, the dance is over.
Both teams travel to Blue Ridge today and Show Low tomorrow sporting 2-1 East region records. Game times both evenings are 6 p.m. (girls) and 7:30 p.m. (boys).
If the boys team is to improve on its East slate and position itself for a run at postseason play, it'll have to rely on a well-balanced scoring attack similar to what the Horns came up with in last weekend's 61-48 win over Round Valley.
Waylon Pettet finished with 20 points, Mike Barr had 18 and Nikki Cassuto contributed 12.
When those three reach double figures and the Horns play tough on the defensive end, Payson is tough to beat.
Another key is senior guard Ky Bradley. One of only two returning veterans, Bradley has the court smarts to settle the younger players down when they get rattled. He's also an astute floor general who has seen more than his share of crucial situations in football, baseball and basketball.
For the Lady Horns to come out of the weekend unscathed, their first priority will be to take good care of the ball.
In a humbling 71-45 loss to Snowflake last weekend, the Lady Horns committed a whopping 15 turnovers in the first quarter of play.
Hardt labeled the loss the team's worst performance of the year.
If the Horns cut down on the miscues, they can play on even terms with both Blue Ridge and Show Low.
Offensively, Brandi Waugh has carried much of the scoring load this season. She'll be counted on again to score, but much-needed help could come from Trista Carlton, Whitney Hardt and Brook McRae.
The key could be McRae who plays center but wasn't much of a scoring threat until she tallied 11 points in last weekend's 53-39 win over Round Valley.
Both the girls and boys teams head to the White Mountains today riding the momentum of Tuesday's East region victories over Alchesay.
The boys team built an early 13-5 lead over the Falcons, then withstood a late rally to win 60-52.
In Whiteriver, the Lady Longhorns coasted to a 74-67 win thanks to 24 points from Whitney Hardt and 22 from Brandi Waugh. Trish Carlton finished with 10.
After a slow start in which the Lady Horns fell behind 16-2, the team rallied to take a 37-29 halftime lead.
Coach Hardt attributed the sloppy first quarter to several missed layups and the failure to execute offensively.
After correcting those shortcomings, the Horns took control of the game. The coach cited guards Whitney Hardt and Haylee Huff for playing exceptional defense. Waugh drew praise from the coach for her offensive contributions.
In the boys win, Nikki Cassuto turned in his best effort of the season, finishing with 15 points. Mike Barr tallied 14 and Derek Daniels finished with 10.
Leading 44-27 early in the fourth quarter, the Horns appeared to be on their way to an easy victory. But Alchesay went on a 25-16 scoring run that pulled the Falcons to within eight.
The Longhorns' 12 of 19 free throw shooting in the final quarter kept Alchesay at bay.