Errant free-throw shooting put the crimps on the Longhorns hopes of being the first Payson High School basketball team to play in America West Arena.
In a heartbreaking 57-53 loss to Tuba City Wednesday afternoon in Walkup Skydome, the Longhorns cashed in only 11 of 25 free throws. On the flip side, Tuba City made 21 of 28 free throws. The 10 point swing at the charity stripe was more than enough to put an end to Payson's highly successful season that saw the team tie for the East region regular season championship and advance to the state's second round before being eliminated.
All season, a team goal has been to win the first two rounds at state and advance to the tournament's final four that will be played today (Friday) and tomorrow in America West Arena.
In the loss to Tuba City, each time the Warriors pulled away to a lead, the gritty Longhorns battled back into contention.
With eight seconds remaining in the game and Tuba City leading 55-53, Payson regained possession of the ball. Coach Mike Loutzenheiser signaled for a time out to set up a last gasp play that could have tied the score or, in the case of a three-point play, given the Horns the lead.
On the inbounds play, however, Waylon Pettet's turnover was scooped up by a Tuba City defender. Fouled on his way to the hoop, the Warrior player made both free throws with less than a second remaining. The pair of freebies nailed down the win for Tuba City, which now plays in the state semifinals at 5 p.m. today.
Although Tuba City entered the state tournament as the North's No. 4 seed, the Warriors caught everybody's attention on the first day of play by upsetting highly regarded West region champion Sedona Red Rock.
In the Longhorns first-round game played in the NAU Activity Center, the Safford Bulldogs were on the receiving end of a 63-53 thumping.
That win could be attributed to the Horns pressing full court defense that eventually wore the Bulldogs down.
One of the highlights of the game was Mike Barr's thundering dunk with 2:21 remaining. His basket upped Payson's lead to 61-44.
Nicky Cassuto led the Longhorn attack with 26 points. Barr had 12 and Nate Perna contributed 9.