When the rock group Queen belted out "We Are the Champions," they weren't directing it at the Payson High School boys basketball team. But they might as well have been -- the Longhorns are now the champs.
The team won the prestigious title Friday night in Wilson Dome with a regular season-ending 56-45 victory over the Show Low Cougars.
The last time Payson High School won a regional championship was in 1990-91, when former coach Jim Quinlan and standouts Tony Licavoli and Darren Reid led the Horns to the 3A West title. It also is only the third regional title championship in the history of PHS boys basketball.
With the Friday's win over Show Low, the Horns improved their East region record to 9-1 (17-6 overall) and share the championship with the Snowflake Lobos who have identical East credentials
The two teams split their home-and-away series this season. Payson was victorious, 66-59 in Wilson Dome, but lost 81-69 in Snowflake.
As co-champs, a coin toss was held Monday in Show Low to determine which team would receive the first seed into the regional tournament Feb. 14 in Eagar/Springerville.
The winner of the toss, Payson, will take the first seed to the regional tournament and play the winner of a tournament opening-round clash pitting the No. 4 regular season finisher (Blue Ridge) against No. 5 (Round Valley). The semifinal game will be played at 8 p.m. Friday in the Round Valley High School dome.
The loser of the coin toss, Snowflake, advances to the regional tournament as the second seed and will play the survivor of the No. 6. (Alchesay) vs. No. 3 (Show Low) first round game. The semifinal clash is on the agenda for 3 p.m. Friday.
The tournament championship will be played at 8 p.m. Feb. 15. It will be preceded at 3 p.m. by a contest pitting the semifinal losers against one another. At stake will be a third-place tournament finish.
The good news in the scenario for the Longhorns is that no matter what the outcome of the regional tournament, the team is guaranteed a berth into the state tournament when it begins Feb. 18 in Flagstaff.
The win Friday over Show Low kept the Longhorns unbeaten in Wilson Dome this season.
"Not losing in the dome was something the kids were really proud of," coach Mike Loutzenheiser said. "It was something they were shooting for all season."
The victory also brought a title to Loutzenheiser in only his second-year as varsity head coach. A former PHS standout in football and basketball, Loutzenheiser was able to mold the group into a scrappy crew that seemed to possess the grit and determination it takes to win nail-biters. Loutzenheiser, who was seldom able to kick back and enjoy a blow out, was kept nervously on the edge of his seat until the final moments of most games.
The 11-point win over Show Low was about as big a victory margin as the Horns have been able to post this season. Early in the game, with the Cougars in an ill-advised man-to-man defense, Payson took advantage by getting the ball in the low block to 6-foot, 7-inch forward/center Mike Barr. "The (region) doesn't have a player who can handle him one-on-one down there," Loutzenheiser said.
Barr's 10 first-quarter points propelled Payson out to an early 18-3 lead. Show Low scored the final six points of the first quarter to close the cushion to 18-9.
Later, the Cougars ditched the man defense but the damage was done. At halftime, Payson led 33-23. Early in the fourth quarter, the Horns led 46-37.
Barr finished as the game-high scorer with 17 points, 12 of which came in the first half. Jake Swartwood contributed nine and Nicky Cassuto had eight. Waylon Pettet and Chris Donaldson scored six points each.