One of the Arizona's finest Class 5A teams is waiting in the wings for the Longhorns at the Matador Shootout in Laughlin.
That squad, state 5A No. 3 ranked Mesa Mountain View (5-0), is scheduled to test its high-flying act against the Horns at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 20 in Mohave High School gym.
The tough Toros are no strangers in the Rim country. Their coach, Gary Ernst, has a home in Payson and his parents also live here. For nearly a decade, Ernst has been bringing his teams to the Rim country for the annual summer prep tournament.
A Toro star, 6-foot-7-inch Harper Kamp, played two years ago at Tonto Village Shelby School before transferring to Mountain View.
Losing him to the Mesa school was a blow to Payson High School hoop hopes. He has the size, skill and ability to capture the attention of college scouts.
"He's only a sophomore but we are getting letters on him," Ernst said.
In the Toros 76-47 victory over Mesa Dobson last week, Kamp finished with a team-high 17 points and dominated the game inside.
After facing Kamp and his Toro buddies in the tournament opener, the Horns will remain in Laughlin Dec. 21 and 22 for further play. Game times and opponents will depend on the results of first round games.
Sixteen teams from around the state and Canada are participating.
The Longhorns enter the tournament 0-6 having lost last week 52-49 to Prescott and 69-39 to state 4A No. 3 ranked Pinnacle.
The Dec. 8 loss to Prescott in the old PHS gym proved to be the most difficult for coach Mike Loutzenheiser and his players.
Following a hard-fought game in which the lead seesawed, Darren Daniels hit a three-pointer with 13 seconds remaining that tied the score at 49.
The game was seemingly headed into overtime before Prescott's Brad Roche sunk a desperation three-pointer from about 23 feet away. His clutch shot from the wing denied the Horns an opportunity to pick up their first win of the season.
Daniels led the team in scoring with 16 points, Donnie Wilbanks had 14 and Andy Sargent finished with nine.
The Horns also received a solid boost off the bench from Robert Newman who contributed six points.
"It was (Newman's) best game of the year. He really stepped up," the coach said.
In the Dec. 10 loss to Pinnacle (9-2), the Longhorns didn't have the horses to run with the thoroughbreds in the Pinnacle stable.
In an effort to force Pinnacle into relying on its long-range offense, Loutzenheiser packed his defense into a zone he rarely plays.
But by relying on a running game, Pinnacle jumped out to an early 22-5 lead before expanding the cushion to 36-18 at halftime.
The Horns were still in the game until Pinnacle's 17-4 onslaught in the third quarter that ended Payson's hopes.
Pinnacle star Ray Murdock was all he was hyped to be, finishing with a game-high 22 points. Wilbanks led Payson with 14 points. Brian Schwind tallied nine and Brandon Buckner had four.
In junior varsity action at Pinnacle, the Longhorn jayvees (3-3) turned in their finest effort of the season, but lost 63-59. Bryson Addington had 22 points; Miles Huff contributed 16 and Hunter Hardt had 13.
On the freshman front, coach Kenny Hayes' charges experienced their first heartbreak of defeat losing 73-48 to Pinnacle.
Levi Neal led the team with 13 points; Robert Walker had 12.
The freshmen and junior varsity will not return to action until Jan. 4 against Flagstaff Coconino in Wilson Dome.