A 73-71 loss to Snowflake in the championship round of the Class 3A East regional tournament has relegated the Payson Longhorns to a second seed in the state tournament.
As the East's No. 2 entry into the big dance, Payson begins pursuit of a state title at 7:30 p.m. this evening in Rolle Activity Center on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
The Horns' opponent, the Safford Bulldogs, enters the tournament as the South's No. 3 seed.
The two teams are no strangers to one another, having clashed last December in the Eastern Arizona College Invitational tournament.
In that fray, the Bulldogs won a 55-54 thriller. At the time, the Horns were without the services of Waylon Pettet and Mike Barr who have both since returned to the staring lineup.
"We are a better team than we were then, but so are they," PHS coach Mike Loutzenheiser said.
In other first round tournament games in Flagstaff, Monument Valley (North No.1) plays Chino Valley (West No. 4); Rio Rico (South No. 2) takes on Round Valley (East No. 3); and Sedona (West No. 1) challenges Tuba City (North No. 4).
Also, unbeaten Globe (South No. 1) plays Alchesay (East No. 4); Grey Hills (North No. 2) takes on Fountain Hills (West No. 3); River Valley (West, No. 2) challenges Holbrook (North No. 4); and East champion Snowflake plays Chandler Seton.
If Payson defeats Globe in the first round, the Longhorns would play the following day (Wednesday) against the winner of the Sedona vs. Tuba City clash.
The region finals
After tying Snowflake for the regular season East championship, the Horns were awarded a first round bye into the regional tournament played at Round Valley High School
In the second round, Payson advanced to the finale by whipping Round Valley 59-50. Mike Barr led the way to the victory with 20 points, Waylon Pettet finished with eight and Kyle Hubbard and Jake Swartwood contributed seven each.
In the championship finale, Payson appeared totally out of sync against the powerful Lobos who were led by Porter Caldwell's 42 points. Trailing 66-36 early in the fourth quarter, most teams would have thrown in the towel.
But the never-say-die Horns put on one of the most incredible rallies seen this season.
The come-from-behind effort pulled Payson to 73-71 with four seconds remaining and Snowflake in possession of the ball.
A Lobo turnover, however, breathed new life into the Longhorns.
After a timeout, Payson attempted to get the ball down low to Barr for what would have been the tying basket. Unfortunately, Barr's shot, a second attempt by Jake Swartwood and a tip in wouldn't fall.
Barr led the Horns offensively with 26 points. Nicky Cassuto finished with 11 and Derek Daniels had nine.