The Longhorn boys basketball team kept its four-year parents' night win streak alive with a 62-53 victory over the Chinle Wildcats.
The enthusiasm of that Jan. 28 victory was dampened days later in Flagstaff where the Horns saw their hopes for an advantageous regional playoff seed dashed in a 60-50 loss to Sinagua
Even though Payson has only one game remaining on the regular season schedule, at 7 p.m. Saturday in Page, it's still too early to tell where the team will open the regional tournament Feb. 8.
Most other teams in the region also play Saturday, making the final standings a mystery.
What is known is that the Longhorns will finish in the Grand Canyon Region second division and be forced to travel to the home of a higher seed for an opening-round game.
In the regional bracketing, the region champion receives a bye in the first round. Other pairings pit No. 2 vs. No 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6, and No. 5 vs. No. 4.
A likely scenario could be the Horns finishing No. 7 and traveling to No. 2, which might be Flagstaff Coconino.
Caging the Wildcats
The win over Chinle was especially satisfying for coach Mike Loutzenheiser partly because it meant every team he's coached since being appointed head of the Payson High School boys basketball program four years ago has won on parents' night.
The victory can be attributed to a well-rounded scoring attack that the team lacked in an earlier loss to the Cats.
Senior guard Wellington Cassuto, who turned in probably his best all around game of the year, paced the offense with 16 points. Fellow senior Donnie Wilbanks finished with 15. Wilbanks' contributions also included two early three-pointers that helped erase a one-point Chinle lead and lift Payson to a 28-23 halftime cushion. Also contributing to the Payson offense were Brandon Buckner and Andy Sargent who finished with eight points each. Junior Brian Schwind tallied seven.
With the win, the Horns were on the verge of taking a huge step in improving their regional tournament seeding. That goal could have been accomplished Feb. 1 with a win over Sinagua.
As promising as a victory looked early in the game when Payson led by as many as 10 points, a win was not to be had.
The Mustangs staged a furious fourth-quarter comeback, in which they outscored Payson 29-12, to nail down the GCR victory.
Payson entered the final quarter clinging to a 38-31 lead, displaying some of its best all-around basketball of the season.
But in the final stanza, the Mustangs -- led by 15 fourth-quarter points from Kyle Tso -- staged the mother of all rallies.
The Horns didn't do much to help themselves, committing several turnovers in a crucial four-minute stretch when Sinagua was applying a half-hearted, but effective, press.
As Loutzenheiser watched his players unleash ill-advised passes that Sinagua picked off and converted into buckets, the coach scrambled to find solutions during a series of time-outs. But there were no answers.
Payson misfired on six of 10 free throws in the final stanza, while Sinagua made six of their seven attempts.
Schwind finished with 16 points and Wilbanks had nine. Darren Daniels, Buckner and Sargent had five each.