The Longhorns' season-ending 57-55 loss to Flagstaff Coconino capped a frustrating campaign in which the basketball squad often came up just a few points short of victory.
"The loss was pretty typical of our year," coach Mike Loutzenheiser said. "We lost five games this year by three or less points."
As heartbreaking as the defeat was for the coach, he was able to muster plenty of words of encouragement for his players.
"They played a great game and gave everything they had," he said. "They never quit and never stopped playing hard. Most importantly, they never started blaming each other for our tough losses."
In the loss to Coconino, which occurred in the opening round of the Grand Canyon regional tournament, the Longhorns took possession of the ball with nine seconds remaining and trailing by two points.
"We brought the ball up court and they had a foul to give so they hit us with five seconds remaining," Loutzenheiser said.
The coach quickly signaled for the Longhorns' final time out, during which, he designed a play for the ball to go inside to 6-foot, 7-inch, 235-pound center Mike Barr.
The coach was hoping Barr, the Horns leading scorer, could power his way to the basket for a close-in two-point shot or draw a shooting foul.
The strategy was foiled when the pass to Barr was tipped by a Panther defender and knocked out of bounds.
With two seconds remaining on the game clock, the chess match continued when Coconino coach Commander King signaled for a time out.
King's choice of calling for a time out was puzzling in that it gave Payson another opportunity to set up an out-of-bounds play.
Without the TO, it would have been tough for Payson to get off a good shot attempt since Coconino defenders had Barr double teamed and only two seconds remained
During the respite, Loutzenheiser switched strategies. Rather than lob the ball inside to Barr for a two-pointer or foul, he designed a play that would create a three-point shot for senior Kyle Hubbard.
"We were going for the win," Loutzenheiser said.
The strategy was to set a double screen for Hubbard that would free him outside the 19-feet, 9-inch arc.
Earlier in the game, the sharpshooting Hubbard had been successful on a pair of three-pointers.
"He came off (the screen) and had an open look for the win," Loutzenheiser said. "The ball just went off a little right and hit the back of the rim."
In the tough loss, Donnie Wilbanks turned in one of his best offensive outings of the season finishing with a team-high 14 points. Barr contributed 12 points, 10 of which were tallied during the final eight minutes in which the Longhorns outscored the Panthers 16-12.
Wellington Cassuto contributed 10 to give the Longhorns a rare trio of double digit scorers.
In most of the season's losses, the Longhorn offense sputtered and only Barr scored 10 or more points. When everyone got into the scoring act, the Horns usually emerged victorious.
The highlight of Payson's 9-18 season might have occurred Dec. 12 in Wilson Dome where the Longhorns whipped state sixth-ranked Pinnacle 67-55. In the stirring upset, the team thrived on the well-balanced scoring attack the coach was searching for.
Barr led all scorers with 16 points. Hubbard finished with 13, Andy Sargent tallied 11 and Cort Connolly added eight. Payson also had its finest night of the season from long-range sinking six three-pointers.
If the Longhorns could have mustered that dead-eye outside shooting all season, opponents would not have been able to double and triple Barr in the low post as most teams did.
With the campaign at an end, Loutzenheiser and his charges will await the results of the all-region team coaches balloting.
Also, Arizona Coaches Association members will soon gather to select the participants in the North vs. South All Star basketball game that will be played this summer in Casa Grande.
Since only seniors participate in the celestial clash, the PHS athletes eligible to compete are Brandon Gordon, Barr and Hubbard.
The date and place for the team's traditional season-ending awards ceremony will be announced next week.
"I want to have it before the end of the month," Loutzenheiser said.