Horns Can Compete For Region Crown, Coach Says

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With only five letter winners returning from last year's baseball team and a first-year varsity coach at the helm, it would appear the Longhorns might struggle this season.

Not so, says new coach Jerry Daniels, "I expect us to compete for the region championship."

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Senior Kyle Sachak is expected to be one of the team leaders for the 2005 Longhorn baseball team. Sachak is a standout fielder and hitter for Payson High School.

Daniels' optimism is based on the team's offensive abilities, his knowledge of the players and good chemistry up and down the lineup.

"Our team strength will be our hitting," he said. "Right now, I do not see a weak link in the lineup.

"Although this is my first year, I am not new to coaching, so the transition to a new head coach has gone smoothly so far," he added.

Prior to taking over the coaching reins from Teddy Pettet, who stepped down last spring, Daniels was a junior varsity baseball coach and his son, Daren, is a senior member of the team.

"I know most of the boys that have come up through the program," he said.

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Tyler Williams, a senior, could see plenty of action as catcher this season for the Longhorn baseball team.

After putting the players through their paces in preseason practices, Daniels is impressed with their potential.

"I have some great kids with great attitudes," he said. "They are very coachable and work hard."

About the only glitch in preseason for the new coach and his players has been the inclement weather that has forced some practices inside old PHS gym, while others had to be canceled.

"With the rain, we have had limited time on our defensive fundamentals," Daniels said.

Despite the rain that recently drenched Arizona, the Horns did manage to keep an engagement for a preseason scrimmage Feb. 23 in Winslow.

"Our lack of practice really showed there because we have not been able to cover our first and third defenses or pick off moves by our pitchers," Daniels said.

Despite struggling defensively in the infield, the coach was pleased with the hurling and the offense.

"Our pitchers did a great job locating the ball and changing speeds," Daniels said. "Our hitters were making good contact and driving the ball well."

Although scrimmage rules do not allow an official score to be kept, the Longhorns might have proven to be the better team.

"We probably outscored the Bulldogs by 10 runs," Daniels said.

That is quite an accomplishment since Winslow coach Art Griffith has consistently molded his Dogs into region and state playoff contenders.

The players

The nucleus of the newest PHS baseball team are the five letter winners that return from last season. They include Dustin Hacker, Matt LeVac, Kyle Sachak, Donnie Wilbanks and Tyler Williams.

Hacker will probably be the team's front line pitcher, LeVac and Williams are catchers, Wilbanks can play outfield and pitch and Sachak holds down the hot corner.

LeVac, however, was slowed in midweek by a hand injury suffered in a pick up football game.

He expects to be out of action for about a week.

A welcome addition to the lineup this year is Daren Daniels who sat out last season with a knee injury. Since returning to the lineup, he has practiced at both first base and pitcher.

Other pitchers the coach can call upon for duty include Matt Behrens, Andy Sanders and sophomore Jason Sweet.

Last season, Sweet -- then a highly promising freshman -- saw varsity mop-up action and managed to pick up a win and two saves. His participation on an off-season valley-based club team might have provided the experience and moxie he needs to become a top notch prep pitcher this season.

Sweet might also see some action at shortstop where he is battling Jerry Paul and Andy Sanders for playing time. In the outfield, Brennon McLaws, Albert Talamonti, Ryan Buchanan, Anthony Puskaric, Wilbanks and Hacker are also possible starters.

Buchanan and Puskaric are seniors but playing their first season of baseball.

Two tournaments

Daniels has the opportunity to access his players his action March 3 to 5 in the Mohave Valley Tournament near Laughlin, Nev.

On the first day of the tournament, Payson played Mohave at 1 p.m. and Palo Verde at 6 p.m. (Results not available at press time).

Today, the Horns challenge Kingman at 10:30 a.m. and Window Rock at 1 p.m. All four games are at Mohave High School.

The tournament wraps up for PHS tomorrow at 3 p.m. on the River Valley High School diamond against Joseph City.

The team returns to the tournament stage March 9 to 12 in the Miami Vandal Invitational.

The Horns open at 11:15 a.m. March 9 versus Superior. Action continues at 6 p.m. March 10 against San Manuel.

Payson plays a doubleheader March 11 versus Globe at 11:15 a.m. and Florence at 3:45 p.m.

The fray wraps up at 3:45 p.m. March 12 against host Miami.

The first home game is scheduled March 30 against Coronado.

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