A field made up of the 16 best Class 3A baseball teams in Arizona began pursuit of the 2003 state championship this morning (Friday) at Maryvale Baseball Park.
Among the contingent of title contenders are the Payson Longhorns which will be vying for the school's second baseball crown.
In 1998, a team led by Bryan Zumbro earned the school's first diamond championship. That team, a three-seed, entered the state tournament as a huge underdog but rode Zumbro's pitching and a powerful hitting attack to the championship game. In the finale at Peoria Sports Complex, the Horns pulled off the upset of the season beating highly favored and state No. 1 ranked Cactus Shadows 23-11.
For this year's baseball crew, first round play began at 9 a.m. on Maryvale's field No. 4 against Eloy Santa Cruz.
The state fifth-ranked Longhorns entered the tournament as the East region second seed with a 7-3 record (18-7 overall). Santa Cruz represents the South's third seed.
If the Longhorns survive the opener, the team advances to a second round game at 9 a.m. tomorrow on Maryvale's field No. 5 The opponent would be the winner of a first round game pitting Fountain Hills against Monument Valley. In that game, state top-ranked Fountain Hills (22-2) is a huge favorite over North fourth-seeded Monument Valley.
Among the other state championship favorites in the tournament are Tucson Sahuarita (19-5), Globe (21-5), Seton Catholic (17-8) and East region champion Show Low (18-5).
Dark horses include North champion Winslow (16-8-1) Higley (16-6) and Santa Cruz (18-6).
The state semifinals are at 3 p.m., May 16. The state championship is on tap for 7 p.m., May 17, in Maryvale's main stadium.
The Horns opened state play armed with a strong pitching staff led by Jeremy Heairet, Ashton Shewey and Jon Beeson.
All season, the trio have shouldered most of the pitching burden for the Longhorns.
At midweek, coach Teddy Pettet gave today's starting pitching nod to Heairet.
For the three pitchers to be successful in the tournament, the Longhorn offense must generate more runs than it did in the last few games of the season.
The offensive leaders most of the campaign were seniors Waylon Pettet and Nate Perna. Both sport .400 plus batting averages and have shown decent power. Pettet, who possesses outstanding speed, is a base stealing threat when he gets on base. Taylor Walden, Ronnie Maksymowski, Travis Sanders, Shewey and Heairet also will be counted on to add punch to the Longhorn attack.
Admission to state tournament games is $5. Maryvale Baseball Park is located at 3600 N. 51st Avenue in Phoenix.