The Longhorn junior varsity basketball team is suffering from the agonizing heartbreak of defeat, but the freshmen are celebrating a hard-fought win.
In the two games played Dec. 16 in Chinle, coach Kenny Hayes' jayvees dropped a gut-wrenching 62-61 loss to Chinle. The freshmen, however, handily polished off the Wildcats, 64-55.
The freshmen, coached by Joe LaSalandra, pulled off the victory without two standout players -- Nick Gonzalez and Sean Dougherty -- who did not make the trip north due to illness.
Some other players might also have been affected by the bug.
"Several others made the trip, but didn't seem to be at 100 percent of their game and played with less intensity than usual," LaSalandra said.
Even with the team playing less than its best, the Horns were able to jump out to an early 17-10 lead and hold on for a 31-25 halftime cushion.
Chinle outscored Payson 20-16 in the fourth quarter, but it was too-little-too-late for the Wildcats.
During the Horns' first-half onslaught, the team shot at a sizzling 75 percent clip. In the second half, the team cooled off to 47 percent, but was still accurate enough to salvage the win.
Following the game, LaSalandra lauded Ever Figueroa for his all-around play, which included 18 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Elden Siverson posted 15 points on 6-of-6 shooting from the field. He also had three steals, two assists and only one turnover.
Cody Waterman was a force inside, with nine points, 14 rebounds, six blocked shots, six assists and three steals.
With the win, the freshmen are now 5-0 on the season.
Leading 61-60, with 16 seconds remaining in the game, the Longhorn junior varsity was only one or two defensive stops away from nailing down a victory.
However, a travel, technical foul and a defensive lapse on a Wildcat inbound pass spelled the demise of the young Horns as Chinle scored the winning basket with only seconds remaining.
"We made some crucial errors late (in the game) that cost us," Hayes said.
As disheartening as the defeat was, the Horns showed their true grit in a third-quarter comeback from a 13-point deficit.
Offensively, guard Shane Keith led all scorers with 21 points. Matt Wilson, a 6-foot-6-inch freshman forward, tallied 13 points and corralled six rebounds. Chase Sevey had nine points and four rebounds.
Anthony Pearce chipped in with four rebounds and three assists. Defensively, Derek Lopez and Tyler Savage pilfered four steals each.
The PHS jayvees and freshmen will take a brief Christmas holiday break before returning to action Jan. 3 in Holbrook.