The Longhorn baseball team (7-5-1) will attempt to rally behind a strong pitching staff and a rapidly improving offense when all-important 4A Grand Canyon regional play begins 3:30 p.m. March 26 on the PHS diamond.
The opponent in the regional opener --he Mingus Marauders -- has been dubbed by PHS coach Teddy Pettet the team to beat in the GC title chase.
"They always are tough, year in and year out," Pettet said.
The Horns will counter the Marauders with a pitching staff that features three starters with ERAs under 1.00 -- Ashton Shewey (0.41), Matt Behrens (0.70), and Dustin Hacker (0.88).
A pair of other Horn hurlers -- Larry Everetts (1.31) and Ricky Young (1.40) -- have ERAs that would swell the chest of a professional pitcher with pride.
Although it's early in the season and those ERAs will probably change, they appear, for now, to be very impressive.
At the onset of the season, Shewey -- who is being courted by the University of Arizona -- was projected to be the Horns ace.
The senior lived up to advanced billing March 15 in the Longhorns 8-1 victory over the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.
Pitted against BR's No 1 pitcher Ben Cunningham, Shewey (2-1) extracted a bit of revenge for a 2-1 loss he suffered last year to the Jacket ace.
In nailing down the convincing win, Shewey struck out 10, gave up just four singles and issued four bases on balls.
In 17 innings pitched, Shewey has allowed 13 hits, struck out a 25 and walked nine. Most impressively, he also has given only one earned run.
The Longhorns picked up a strong pitcher to go along with Shewey when junior Dustin Hacker moved last summer to Payson from his previous home in Colorado.
The 5-9-inch, 160-pound hurler has posted a 2-0 record in eight innings pitched. He's given up five hits, struck out 16 and walked just one.
In early season, Behrens (1-0) has also shown the potential to become a top notch varsity hurler. He's appeared in three games, pitched 10 innings and is credited with a save.
Freshman Jason Sweet (0-1) is not listed on the early season varsity roster but has stepped in to provide depth on the pitching staff.
In three appearances, he's credited with a save and two strike outs.
Sweet might soon be donning a jayvee uniform, but his stint on varsity has provided him invaluable experience he can call upon as his baseball career unfolds.
After a slow start at the season-opening Mohave Invitational Tournament (March 3 to 6) , Longhorn hitters began to pound the ball at the Copper Hills Classic (March 10 to 13) in Miami. The onslaught continued in the Horns' win over Blue Ridge.
Shewey leads the team with a .457 batting average that includes 11 RBIs, three doubles and a home run.
Infielder/pitcher Donnie Wilbanks is hitting at a .423 clip with one extra base hit -- a triple. Other team leaders with more than 20 at-bats include Matt LeVac (.304) and Kyle Sachak (.292).
Senior outfielder Austin Goss (.467) is swinging a hot bat, but has appeared in just eight games. Hacker (.333) and Young (.286) have also contributed offensively.
Senior Ronnie Maksymowski (.226) is struggling at the plate, but has swatted one of the Longhorns' two home runs. The three RBI circuit blast came in the first inning of the Horns 11-0 victory over the Miami.
As a team, the Horns have drawn 36 walks, struck out 55 times and have been successful in 16 of 19 steal attempts.