Waiting in the wings for the Longhorn baseball team is an opportunity to take a giant stride toward a top-four East region finish and a berth in the state tournament.
The golden chance is a regional showdown, at 4 p.m. today in Holbrook.
Coach Jerry Daniels said he is expecting a barn burner of a skirmish, mostly because the two rivals battled one another tooth and nail in a region clash earlier this season.
The Horns (3-2 in the East) --ho have won four of their last six games and are on a three game winning streak --ipped the Roadrunners 2-1 March 27 on PHS field.
The two teams entered the final frame deadknotted 1-1. Payson scored a single run in the top of the seventh, then held Holbrook scoreless in the bottom of the inning to ensure the win.
Jason Sweet hurled a three-hitter to earn the pitching victory.
If the Longhorns can win again today and sweep the Roadrunners, Payson would probably need only to split its remaining six East games to assure itself of a berth in the season ending state tournament.
Of course, PHS players would like to win as many of the final six as possible to earn an advantageous seed going into the state finale.
Against Holbrook, Daniels will start Matt Behrens, but the coach is uncertain how long his senior righthander will remain on the hill.
"He had to pitch an inning in relief (April 4 in a 15-14 win at Show Low), so I don't know if he can go all the way," Daniels said.
If Behrens falters, Daniels said he will call upon Jake Willis or Matt LeVac for relief.
In the one-run marathon-like win over Show Low, the two teams combined for a whopping 29 hits.
"It was a slugfest," Daniels said.
The difference in the game eventually turned out to be the three errors the Cougars committed. Those allowed the Horns to score two unearned runs.
While the cats were fumbling away the ball, the Horns were playing almost flawlessly, committing just one miscue.
The Horn hit parade was led by LeVac, who finished 3-for-4 and had three RBIs and three runs scored.
LeVac opened the game pounding a resounding double over the left fielder's outstretched glove and followed that up with another double and home run.
"He was crushing the ball," Daniels said.
Also for Payson, Sweet was 2-for-5 with three RBIs and a run scored.
Sweet also received the starting pitching call and hurled five complete innings, but was not involved in the decision.
The win went to Behrens in relief.
Sweet faced 34 batters, gave up 13 hits and allowed eight earned runs. He also struck out five and walked four.
Behrens pitched just one frame, but faced nine hitters while allowing two earned runs and a triple and a single.
Entering the bottom of the seventh, Payson held a 12-9 lead before the coach David Nicholas' Cougars scored two runs to pull back into contention.
Behrens eventually thwarted the rally, chalking up two strike outs.
In other recent clashes, Payson whipped Alchesay 5-3 and Camp Verde, 16-5, but lost to Snowflake 7-2.
The win over Alchesay, originally scheduled for March 24, but postponed, was played April 1 in Whiteriver.
In the victory, Willis started on the mound, went the distance, and was credited with the victory, allowing just four hits and two earned runs. He struck out eight and walked three.
Albert Talamonte fueled the Longhorn offense with a 3-for-4 effort at the plate that included a triple, two RBIs and two runs scored.
In the March 31 non-region win over Camp Verde, freshman Hunter Haynes picked up the victory, hurling the entire six innings, giving up eight hits and three earned runs.
Andy Sanders and Talamonte were both 3-for-4 at the plate.
Also, LeVac drove in four runs and Sanders and Behrens had three RBIs each.
While the Horn offense was firing on all cylinders against the Falcons and Cowboys, it was spittin', sputterin' and chuggin' in the March 30 loss to the Snowflake Lobos.
During the 6-1/2 inning exercise in futility, Payson hitters struck out a whopping 14 times and tallied just four hits, two by LeVac.
With no offense to rally around, Payson trailed 7-0 entering the seventh. A late two-run rally rendered the final score a bit more respectable.
Sweet, who has been a hard luck pitcher the past two seasons, was saddled with the loss after giving up six earned runs and 10 hits. He also struck out six and walked two.