The Payson Longhorns took care of home court business by whipping the Snowflake Lobos 64-51 in the first round of the East region tournament.
With the win, Feb. 8 in Wilson dome, the Horns assured themselves of a minimum fourth place tournament finish and a berth into the Class 3A tournament.
For Payson, the state tournament tips off at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday against South Region champion and state No. 1-ranked Chandler Seton Catholic.
The first two rounds of state will be played at the Northern Arizona University Skydome. The final two rounds, Feb. 24 and 25, will be contested in the Glendale Arena.
The East opening round win over Snowflake propelled the Longhorns into tournament quarterfinals Feb. 10 in Show Low.
There, the Horns dropped a hard-fought 65-60 decision to eventual East region champion and state top seeded Holbrook.
In hosting the Lobos in the tournament's first round, the Horns (16-12) had their backs to the wall. A loss would have spelled an early end to the season.
Payson, however, rose to the occasion to derail the once powerful Snowflake express. In addition to the win earning the Horns a state seed, it might have been a morale booster. Snowflake, a longtime arch rival of Payson and the high school sports mecca of small town Arizona, has dealt PHS teams some humbling defeats over the past two decades.
Mike Loutzenheiser, a former Longhorn player who went on to coach football and basketball at PHS and Rim Country Middle School, once said, "A win over Snowflake, no matter what the sport or level, is a great thrill."
In caging the Lobos, the Longhorns jumped out to an 18-11 lead in the first eight minutes and never looked back. The only quarter the Horns were outscored was the fourth when Coach Chuck Hardt was substituting freely, even using three junior varsity players -- Levi Neal, Matt Jones and Robert Walker -- who joined the varsity at the conclusion of the regular season.
A key to the easy victory was the Longhorns huge edge in free throw shooting.
Payson cashed in on 24 of 30 attempts and Snowflake was 11 for 15.
Senior forward/center Brian Schwind, who sometimes struggles from the line, had a night of free throw shooting he won't soon forget, making good on eight of 11 attempts.
Schwind entered the game shooting just 50 percent from the line. Joining Schwind in enjoying a banner evening at the line were Tommy Ashby (4-for-4), Robert Neuman (3-for-4), Miles Huff (2-for-2) and Brandon Buckner (2-for-2) who leads the team in free throw shooting with an impressive 83 percent season's average.
Defensively the Horns also excelled, chalking up 17 steals, three each by Buckner and Huff.
The Horns also recorded 12 assists, four by junior guard Bryson Addington.
If the Horns did have a shortcoming, it is the same thing that has haunted them all season long -- turnovers. Payson committed 22 miscues but was able to overcome them with the good effort from the line and the steals.