Undefeated! Tenacious Freshmen Wrap Up 17-0 Campaign

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It's now in the books: Payson High School has what is believed to the Longhorns' first undefeated basketball team.

It all happened last week when the Longhorn freshmen boys wrapped up a 17-0 season with a 44-30 win over Sinagua and a 48-45 victory against Mingus.

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Members of the undefeated Longhorn freshmen basketball team include (front, left to right) Justin Kromrie, Cade Connolly, Cameron Batty, Austin Slapnicka and Miles Huff. In the back row are (left to right) manager James Casell, Matt Jones, Toby Anderson, Alex Bunk, coach Chuck Hardt, Mike Blalock, Hunter Hardt, Bryce Danielson and Bryson Addington.

Official school records are not kept for freshmen and jayvee teams, but longtime observers say PHS has not fielded an undefeated team since the Horns first began playing basketball in the 1950s.

Freshman boys coach Chuck Hardt, who served a stint as varsity head coach in the late 1980s and once played at Payson High, said he can't recall an unbeaten Longhorn team.

When the season tipped off Nov. 24 at Notre Dame Prep in Phoenix, Hardt was skeptical about the team's chances of excelling.

"I had no idea this team would be this good," he said.

Early on, an unblemished record was never a goal of the team. But as the season continued and the wins mounted, the players couldn't help but set their sights on a 17-0 record, Hardt said.

The rookies' toughest tests of the year came against a Cottonwood Mingus team that had beaten the Payson crew last year when the athletes were in eighth grade playing on middle school teams.

In the two head-to-head matches this season between the rivals, Payson survived both matches by a total of seven points.

The final skirmish, played Feb. 4 in Wilson Dome turned into a see-saw affair in which Payson took an early 8-6 lead and expanded it to 26-11 at halftime. Gutsy Mingus refused to fold under the Longhorn pressure and came roaring back to trail only 36-33 early in the fourth quarter. Payson was out scored 13-12 late in the game but the lead the team built in the second quarter held up under Mingus' onslaught.

Bryson Addington paved the way to the win with 17 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals. Alex Bunk tallied 11 points, corralled six rebounds and had three steals. Mike Blalock and Hunter Hardt both chipped in with six points each.

In the season-ending win over Sinagua Feb. 5, Carlos Lopez had a nice all-around effort with 14 points and seven rebounds. Shooting guard Miles Huff led the Horns' tenacious half-court man-to-man defense with five steals. He also scored eight points.

Bunk, Addington, Blalock and Hardt contributed four points each.

With the stellar season at and end, coach Hardt says the players now face a huge challenge in that they must continue to work on their game and improve with each passing season.

Among the coach's suggestions to the players at season's end was to continue to work on individual defense and rebounding. He also said they must learn to "share the wealth offensively."

Throughout the past campaign, the team featured a well-rounded offensive attack in which four players -- Bunk, Addington, Huff and Hardt -- took turns leading the scoring parade.

"Those four all finished with 9.5 to 11 points per game scoring averages," coach Hardt said.

Under the tutelage of coach Hardt, rebounding also was a team priority. Bunk corralled 89 loose shots to lead the young Horns. Hardt hauled in 75 and Huff was credited with 73.

The date and place for the season-ending awards ceremony will be announced soon, varsity head coach Mike Loutzenheiser said.

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