A trio of recent wins coupled with a 13-4 record (3-0 in the East) has boosted the Payson Longhorn baseball team to state runner-up ranking.
In the Arizona Baseball Coaches Association's Class 3A rankings, the Longhorns hold down the runner-up spot behind top-rated Fountain Hills (13-1). Trailing the front runners are No. 3 Sahuarita (11-2) and No. 4 Queen Creek (10-4).
Globe, the preseason favorite to win the state championship, sports a 12-3 record and is ranked sixth. The Longhorns administered the Tigers one of their three losses earlier this season.
The Horns assertion to the No. 2 ranking might be attributed to last week's impressive victories over Round Valley, 3-2, Sedona, 19-5 and Blue Ridge, 9-2
The East region triumph over the BR Yellow Jackets, chalked up in a rare night game contested Friday on PHS diamond, might be attributed to Jeremy Heairet's rock-solid pitching and Ashton Shewey's red-hot bat.
After receiving the starting call from coach Teddy Pettet, Heairet hurled the complete game victory giving up two earned run on five hits. Demonstrating good command of his pitches, Heairet also struck out 10.
While Heairet was mowing down opposing batters, Shewey's text-book swing was providing all the run support the Longhorns needed. In the first inning, Shewey blasted a booming three-run home run. An inning later, he swatted a two-run blast that helped the Longhorns jump out to a lead the team never surrendered.
Just three days prior to dispensing of the Jacket threat, Payson took the measure of another East region rival -- the Round Valley Elks.
In a pitcher's duel that wasn't decided until the bottom of the 10th inning, the homestanding Longhorns scratched and clawed to an unlikely win.
As sweet as the triumph was for players and fans, the win left Pettet scratching his head.
"Sometimes teams win games and coaches can't figure out how it happened," he said. "That was the case against Round Valley."
Pettet's amazement might be attributed to the fact his team was out hit by Round Valley (8-7), and Elk pitching ace Ryan Meyers seemed to have the Longhorns' number all afternoon.
In striking out 14 Longhorn batters, Meyers hurled more than 140 pitches during his nine-inning stint on the mound.
After striking out the side in the ninth, the RV coaching staff opted to yank their ace who proved last season he can be as dominate as any pitcher in the 3A conference.
Meyers removal from the hill proved to be the Elk's undoing.
In the bottom of the 10th frame and the scored deadknotted 2-2, leadoff hitter Travis Sanders drew a walk. After Nate Perna flied out, Waylon Pettet got aboard on a base on balls. Next up, Shewey lined a 1-0 pitch over the left fielder's head to score Sanders with the winning run.
In addition to lashing the game winning hit, Shewey was the starting pitcher for Payson and hurled six solid innings before giving way to reliever Jon Beeson (2-1).
In the crucial 9th and 10th innings, Beeson retired six of the seven batters he faced.
"In you like a pitching duel, fans who stuck it out for the 3 1/2 hour game got their money's worth," Pettet said.
Offensively for Payson, only Taylor Walden had more than one hit. Perna and Shewey had the only RBIs of the game.
Sandwiched between the crucial East wins over the Elks and Jackets was a 19-5 non-region thumping of the Sedona Scorpions.
Contested April 3, the PHS win was fueled by the hitting of Waylon Pettet and Walden. In the second inning, Waylon's grand-slam home run ignited a nine-run outburst. Walden finished 3-for-3 with a home run and two doubles.
Ricky Young (2-1) picked up the victory.
The Longhorns continue their quest to remain atop the East region standings at 4 p.m. today (Tuesday) against the visiting Alchesay Falcons. Tomorrow (Wednesday), the Horns travel to Heber for a non-region clash against Mogollon.
Although the Mustangs are a 2A conference school, the team usually manages to supply the Longhorns all they competition they can handle.
The highlight of the early season could occur on the day many dread paying their income taxes. At 4 p.m. April 15, the Horns travel to Show Low to renew their longtime East rivalry against the Cougars. A win over the David Nicholas-coached cats would represent a nice-sized step in the Horns' journey to postseason honors.