It's early in the season but Payson High School freshman boys basketball coach Joe LaSalandra is already comparing his team to last year's highly successful 16-2 squad.
"This is an innovative and fun bunch to coach, like last year's freshmen," he said Dec. 5, following his team's 76-74 win over the home-standing Fountain Hills Falcons.
"This was one of our best performances thus far," he said. "I was pleased with the players' resilience and perseverance."
LaSalandra also said the victory was particularly rewarding because the Fountain Hills team used older players.
"It was composed of jayvee and freshmen," he said. "Three of the players brought down started and played with their junior varsity team."
Such a tactic is legal as long as the player does not exceed the number of games he is legally allowed to appear in during a given season.
At halftime of the nail-biter, the Horn freshmen trailed by a point but erased that deficit during a third quarter outburst in which PHS outscored the Falcons 24-20.
Although the Falcons went on a long range shooting rampage in the fourth quarter hitting seven three-pointers, the Horns were able to maintain the cushion, thanks to free throw shooting that would have swelled Shaquille O'Neal's chest with pride.
"We hit 11-of-17 to keep the lead," LaSalandra said.
The coach cited Cody Waterman as a key to the win, saying he "shot a high percentage and consistently responded to every surge attempt by the Falcons."
Waterman finished with 30 points and eight blocked shots.
LaSalandra also praised Ever Figueroa for his tenacious defense and 15 points. Brandon Alexander tallied 11 points and Elden Siverson had seven.
With the win, the young Horns improved to 4-0.
The team will have the opportunity to tack on another win before the 2006 season ends when the Horns travel tomorrow, Saturday to Chinle.
Game time is 2 p.m.