The Longhorn baseball team's aspirations to finish the regular season among the top-four teams in the Grand Canyon Region could hinge on the outcome of a doubleheader tomorrow (Saturday) in Chinle. Game times are noon and 2 p.m.
Payson, Chinle, Page and Coconino are in a dogfight for the second-, third- and fourth-place finishes in the region. State No. 3-ranked Flagstaff has a firm grip on first place.
If the Horns can muster a top-four regular season finish, the team would earn the right to open the regional tournament May 1 on the Longhorn diamond. A four-seed would pit the Horns against the region's No. 5 finisher. In that scenario, the home field is a distinct advantage especially if the No. 5 team is Chinle. The more than four-hour bus ride between Payson and Chinle often takes a toll on traveling players.
If the Horns can survive the first round of the regional clash, the team would advance to the quarterfinals May 3 and 4 in Mingus. The top-three teams there will represent the Grand Canyon Region in the Class 4A state tournament, which begins May 8.
Against Chinle, coach Teddy Pettet can beckon his two most effective starters -- Ashton Shewey and Dustin Hacker.
In a split with the Page Sand Devils April 17 in Payson, Hacker suffered his first loss of the campaign by a 15-8 margin. Of the nine runs scored against him however, only three were earned.
In the Horns' second-game victory, Shewey pitched the final out of the third inning and returned to the mound to finish the final three frames. Although he didn't receive credit for the win, the victory went to Trevor LaHaye who hurled the fourth inning. Shewey picked up his first save of the year.
"He was effective holding the Sand Devils to two runs over the final three innings," Pettet said.
Other pitchers Pettet can call upon include Kyle Sachak, Matt LeVac and Ricky Young.
Offensively, Ryan Thiel, Donnie Wilbanks, Austin Goss and Shewey have shined at various times this season.
In the win over Page, the foursome helped Payson pound out 18 hits, three of which were doubles and one a home run.
Young contributed to the barrage swatting a two-run homer.
In a 9-4 loss to the Show Low Cougars April 17, Shewey, who had two solo home runs, put on a display of power that has earned him attention from college recruiters.
Senior Mark McRae also got into the scoring act with an RBI double.
Following tomorrow's twin bill in Chinle, the Horns travel to Flagstaff Sinagua April 27.