Battling wind gusts of up to 45 mph, the defending state champion Longhorn golf team had to settle for a second-place finish at the East regional championships April 26 and 27 on the par-70 Snowflake Municipal Course.
Carding a two-day total of 634, the Longhorns finished four strokes behind East champion Snowflake, which was playing its home course.
At the conclusion of the first day of play, the quick-starting Lobos held a 310 to 315 lead over the Longhorns.
Snowflake's strong early showing could be attributed to a pair of 73s turned in by brothers Derrick and Creston Schneider.
Trailing on the scoreboard didn't affect the enthusiasm of a Longhorn team that last spring rallied from a first-day deficit to win the state championship.
"We felt good about our chances of catching them and, in fact, we did catch them," coach Bret Morse said. "After No. 14, we were up several strokes.
Uncharacteristically, the Horns stumbled on the final four holes which allowed the Lobos to retake the lead.
"We faltered a bit down the stretch," Morse said.
"We were close, but just didn't close the deal.
"Snowflake played well."
Although losing to a rival like the Lobos was a disappointment, the coach was satisfied with the individual scores turned in by the five varsity players.
"If you would have told me before we started that we would have three scores in the 70s and one in the 80s for both days in that wind I would have said we have won (the regional championship)," Morse said.
The good news in the silver-medal finish is that all of the Longhorn players medaled by finishing in the top 10, and were named to the All-East region team.
The best showing from Payson was turned in by tournament runner-up Billy Bob Hoyt who tallied a 75 on the first day and a 78 the second. His 153 was four strokes off the pace of tournament champion and East Region Player of the Year Derrick Schneider.
Teammate Brandan Kelley was one stroke behind Hoyt, with a consistent 77 both days.
Other top 10 finishers from Payson were John McDermott (sixth, 157), Jeff Higgins (ninth, 171) and Kyle Kent (10th, 174).
A field of 20 prep players participated in the showdown.
In the team scores, Show Low (688) was third and Blue Ridge (794) fourth.
On to state
Next up for the Longhorns is the opportunity to repeat as the Class 3A state champions April 8 and 9 in Wickenburg.
There, the Horns will have to outplay talented teams from Safford, Fountain Hills, Sedona and Snowflake if they are to nail down the school's second state golf title.
All season Morse has stressed strong team play from the top to the bottom of the roster would be the key to winning another state crown.
That fact of prep golfing success was never more evident than at regionals where team depth paid huge dividends for the Lobos.
"All five of our players placed and medaled in the top 10 ... only three of Snowflake's did, yet they beat us on overall scoring," Morse said.
At state, all important veteran leadership will probably have to be provided by Hoyt and Kelley who were integral members of last year's title team.
Both are only sophomores, but have survived the the rigors of postseason play.