Had Payson High remained in the 3A conference rather than being moved to 4A last spring, the Longhorn golf team might today be celebrating a state championship.
Instead, the Horns are settling for a state eighth-place showing at the 4A championships Nov. 5 and 6 at Sundance Golf Club near Buckeye.
The talented conference simply sported too many prolific players and teams for the Longhorns to have had a realistic chance at winning PHS's second state golf championship.
PHS head coach Bret Morse assessed 4A competition to be much more competitive than in the 5A conference.
"I think if we'd have played in 5A, we would have finished among the top five," he said.
At the onset of the season-ending state tournament, Morse predicted a top-10 finish by the Horns would be a good showing.
"And, if we finish in the top five," he said, "it means some of the best teams faltered and we played our best."
In finishing seventh, 25 strokes behind state champion Pinnacle, the Horns turned in a showing that was about what the coach anticipated. Payson was one stroke behind seventh-place Bradshaw Mountain and five off the pace of sixth-place Tucson Sabino.
The three teams behind the state champs were runner-up Arcadia (614), bronze medalist Apache Junction (614) and fourth-place Chaparral (628).
All season, Morse predicted those four schools would be the teams to beat in the chase for state honors.
About the only school that faltered in the tournament was newly built Notre Dame Prep. The parochial school was expected to finish much higher than the ninth-place showing it turned in.
A field of 18 4A teams participated in the state finale.
The Longhorns' state effort was paced by senior Billy Bob Hoyt who came within a single putt of winning the individual 4A crown.
At the conclusion of two days and 36-holes of play, Hoyt was tied with Stephen Cook of Mingus and Clint Oleson of Bradshaw Mountain. The trio tied with 147.
On the first hole of the sudden death playoff, Cook emerged with a one-stroke win.
"He sunk a 20-foot putt on the extra hole to win it," Hoyt said.
On the par 72 course, Hoyt wrapped up the first day one under par. On the second day, he carded a 76 to finish the tournament three over par.
Also representing the Longhorns in the finale were Troy Marrs (84 and 88), Tyler Danielson (86 and 83), Brad Meyocks (79 and 82) and Brandon Kelley (81 and 79).
Grand Canyon champs
Although the Longhorns came up short in their bid for a state title, the team did stake claim to the Grand Canyon regional championship.
For Morse and the senior members of the PHS team, the title was the third regional championship in the past four seasons.