Fans in Wilson Dome Tuesday evening were treated to a pair of break-neck basketball showdowns well worth the $3 admission price.
In the opener, coach Shaun Hardt's Lady Longhorns came up just short of upsetting the Snowflake Lobos. Behind 25 points from Nicole Simmons, the Lobos escaped to their White Mountain homes with a 51-49 victory.
Simmons' sterling performance was not totally unexpected. Last season, the 5-foot, 10-inch Lobo center gave former Payson star Reanna Martinez, now on a track scholarship at Arizona State University, all she could handle.
"Reanna said she is really strong, and she showed it," coach Hardt said.
In the second clash Tuesday evening, the Payson boys team turned in the upset of the 3A prep season, whipping the Snowflake Lobos 65-60.
The Longhorns, coach Mike Loutzenheiser said, "played with more intensity than we have all year."
He also called the triumph "a great team effort ... we were gunning for Snowflake because of the way they beat us in their gym."
In that game, played Jan. 11, the Lobos pounded Payson 88-51.
In the Longhorns' revenge victory, sophomore center Mike Barr led the team in scoring (17) and rebounding (12).
"Mike played huge for us," Loutzenheiser said.
The coach also lauded the contributions of Derek Daniels.
"He didn't score, but he did a great job of defense," Loutzenheiser said.
Waylon Pettet, Nicky Cassuto, Jake Swartwood and Matt Woolwine drew praise for playing solid games off the bench.
Woolwine finished with seven points; Pettet, Cassuto and Swartwood contributed six each.
The Lady Longhorns' disappointing loss to Snowflake drops Payson (4-2 in the East) to second place in the region standings. Round Valley and Snowflake, both once-beaten, are tied atop the East standings.
Although the Lady Horns received double digit scoring from Brandi Waugh (16) and Whitney Hardt (11), the team could never recover from Simmons' offense.
Beasts from the East
A pair of weekend losses to Show Low and Blue Ridge probably means the Longhorn boys basketball team won't be receiving a first round bye when the regional tournament begins Feb. 8 in Whiteriver.
"I think we've fallen too far to get that (bye) now," coach Mike Loutzenheiser said.
Only the first three East teams receive byes and Payson appears destined for fourth place at best.
The good news for the Horns, however, is that if the team can duplicate earlier season wins over Alchesay and Round Valley, Payson would host a first-round regional tournament game.
A win in the opening round would earn the Horns at least a fourth place seed into the state tournament when it begins Feb. 19.
The Horns travel to Round Valley today (Friday) for a 7:30 p.m. tip off.
Tomorrow (Saturday), the Horns host Alchesay at 7:30 p.m. in Wilson Dome.
The team wraps up the regular season Jan. 29 (vs. Blue Ridge) and Feb. 1 (vs. Show Low) in Wilson Dome.
Weekend defeats that crippled the Horns' chances of moving into the top echelon of the East standings were 71-51 to region leader Blue Ridge and 57-42 to second place Show Low.
In the loss to the Yellow Jackets Friday in Lakeside, Blue Ridge rode the red-hot shooting of Toby Elkins to the 20-point victory.
In the first quarter, Elkins cashed in on four three-pointers. He followed that barrage up with three more late in the fourth quarter. Elkins finished the evening with a game high 28 points.
"Every time I looked up, he was hitting a three," Loutzenheiser said.
Payson couldn't muster the fire power to counter the Yellow Jacket attack, but did earn 14 points from Mike Barr and 12 from Waylon Pettet.
The following evening in Show Low, the Horns met up with another hot-shooting bomber in Cougar Corban Davis.
His 23 points and 17 from Jason Stock were most of the offense the Cougars needed to slip past the Horns.
The only Payson player to finish in double digits was Barr with 12 points.
Alex Cassuto tallied six and Pettet and Ky Bradley had five each.
Poor free throw shooting
Loutzenheiser said he was riled by the team's horrendous free throw shooting (5 for 13) which included several misses on the front end of one-and-one situations.
At Monday morning's practice session, while school was in recess for Martin Luther King Day, Loutzenheiser focused on correcting the team's problems from the line. In one free throw shooting drill, missed shots resulted in grueling sprints.
Also in the practice session, the team worked on polishing its offense that has had its up and downs this season.
The "O" is at its best when players are moving without the ball and executing crisp passes.