The Longhorn baseball team has rebounded from a 1-4-1 start to win six consecutive games.
The remarkable turnaround began March 10 at the Copper Classic Tournament at Miami High School. After defeating the host Vandals 11-0 in the tournament opener, the resurgent Longhorns went on to defeat Globe 8-2, Florence 9-2, San Manuel 9-6 and Superior 9-5.
The long road back from a dismal start continued March 15 on PHS field where Payson thumped the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets 8-1.
The Copper Classic, coach Teddy Pettet said, afforded his team the opportunity to "get well" from its early season maladies.
The win over Blue Ridge was especially satisfying since the Yellow Jackets and Longhorns were longtime rivals when both were members a the 3A East region.
For Monday's clash, Pettet called upon senior ace Ashton Shewey to start on the hill. Shewey responded with a strong effort in which he struck out 10, gave up just four singles and issued four bases on balls.
"He came within a wild pitch in the seventh inning of recording a shutout," Pettet said.
Shewey's victory was a bit of revenge for a 2-1 loss he suffered last spring against BR's pitching ace Ben Cunningham.
This time out, the Horns 2-3-4-5 hitters gave Shewey the support he didn't have in last year's loss to the Jacket hurler.
"The Horns were up to the challenge and sent Cunningham to the showers in the fifth (inning)," Pettet said.
Donnie Wilbanks led the offense with three hits and three RBIs.
Matt Levac, Ron Maksymowski and Shewey had two hits each.
With the victory, the Longhorns improved their record to 7-4-1.
The team will take a brief break before returning to action at 3:30 p.m. March 25 on PHS field against the Mingus Marauders. The game will be the Horns' inaugural 4A Grand Canyon encounter.
Finish Copper Classic 5-0
In the Miami tournament opener, Pettet opted to pitch junior transfer Dustin Hacker who had showed some pitching promise during the Mohave Tournament March 3 to 6.
"He was impressive, to say the least (against Miami)," Pettet said. "He struck out nine in four innings and did not allow a base hit."
With the Horns up 11-0 in the fourth inning, Pettet chose to save his right-hander for upcoming games and relieved with freshman Jason Sweet. The rookie responded with a strong effort in which he did not allow a hit. Hacker and Sweet were credited with a combined no-hitter.
Payson had five "timely" hits," Pettet said.
In the first inning, Maksymowski got the Horns off to a lead blasting a three-run homer. In the fourth, Austin Goss' three-run triple drove the final nail in the Vandal coffin.
The following day, March 11, the Horns rocked both Globe and Florence in a rare tournament double-header.
Against Globe, a longtime 3A powerhouse, Shewey hurled six strong innings to earn his first victory of the season. Shewey struck out 11 and allowed four hits.
At the conclusion of the victory, the coach praised the senior's effort.
"He has still not allowed an earned run in two appearances and 10 innings pitched," Pettet said.
Senior Austin Goss blasted a first-inning two-out single to push the Horns out to a 2-0 lead. In the sixth, doubles from Tyler Williams and Manny Arguello fueled a five-run outburst.
In the win over Florence, Pettet uncovered yet another front-line pitcher in sophomore Matt Behrens.
During his seven-inning stint, the youngster did not give up an earned run, allowed only five hits, walked three and struck out two.
"His mix of change-ups, curve balls and fastballs had the Gophers off balance all day," Pettet said.
In support of Behrens, Payson pounded out 11 hits, drew five walks and stole four bases.
Big hits in the Horn blitzkrieg were Maksymowski's first-inning two-run single, a RBI triple in the sixth by Wilbanks and Arguello's two-run single in the seventh.
In the three-run victory over San Manuel, the Horns beat a team that entered the tournament with a reputation as thriving behind a Murders' Row of sluggers.
"They are known for their hitting prowess," Pettet said. "Their reputation was upheld when they scored six runs in the first three innings on two doubles and three singles."
The base knocks were all off Wilbanks, the starting pitcher. Kyle Sachak relieved Wilbanks and after giving up two run-scoring doubles, settled down.
"He was brilliant in the last three innings holding the Miners scoreless," Pettet said. "That gave us a chance to come back."
Trailing 6-5 in the bottom of the sixth, the Horns rallied for four runs to salvage the come-from-behind victory. Shewey's home run over the left field fence nailed down the victory.
"That set off an exciting celebration for the team," Pettet said.
In the Horns final tournament game, which was against Superior, Pettet sent sophomore Larry Everett to the mound.
A leaky Payson defense that committed three errors in the first two innings quickly spelled the demise of Everett. After two complete innings, the Panthers held a 5-3 lead. Senior Ricky Young was called upon to relieve Everett and shut-out Superior over the final three innings.
The Horns took an 8-5 lead in the bottom of the fourth on a bases loaded walk to Arguello, a fielder's choice RBI by Maksymowski and a two-run double by Shewey.