Back to back wins over Round Valley and Show Low improved the Longhorn baseball team's East record to 9-3 and earned the squad a tie for second place in the final region standings.
The Horns bested Round Valley 16-0 April 25 in Eagar behind the five-hit pitching of Matt Behrens. Two days later, on the PHS diamond, Jason Sweet hurled the Horns to a 6-4 victory over the Cougars.
The wins wrapped up series sweeps of both the Elks and Show Low.
The Horns caged the Cougars 12-11 on April 4 and whipped RV 17-7 on April 8.
In the Longhorns second victory over Show Low, coach Jerry Daniels gave Sweet the starting pitching nod and the junior hurler responded with a complete game victory. In seven innings on the hill, he allowed three earned runs, five hits, walked five and struck out 12.
For the regular season, he now leads the 3A conference in strikeouts with 76.
Sahuarita's Fernando Mejia, one of Arizona's most acclaimed prep pitchers, is second strikeouts with 74.
The possibility exists that Sweet and Mejia could face one another May 5 in the first round of the state tournament at Maryvale Baseball Park.
"I can't wait," Sweet said.
In nine starts, Sweet has a 3-5 record and a 3.42 ERA.
When Sweet, a .348 hitter, was not uncorking 85 mph fastballs against the Cougars, he was swinging a red-hot bat.
In four trips to the plate, he had two hits and led the team in RBIs with three. One of his hits was a double.
Jacob Willis and Albert Talamonte did their share for the Horn cause, contributing two hits each.
In the victory, Payson took a 2-0 lead in the second inning only to have the cats' claw back into contention 2-2 in the top of the fourth. The Horns responded to score four runs in the bottom of the inning.
Show Low tallied singles runs in the fifth and the sixth frames but could never wrestle the lead away from the determined Longhorns.
No bugle in Elks
The Horns win over Round Valley was fueled by Behrens who hurled five complete shut out innings in a game that was shortened on the 10-run mercy rule.
During his stint, Behrens allowed five hits and struck out six.
Offensively, the Horns used the lopsided clash to fatten their batting averages.
Willis was 3-for-3 and knocked in a whopping six RBIs. Sweet finished 3-for-4 with two doubles.
Team hitting leader Matt LeVac was 2-for-3 with four RBIs and his fifth home run of the season. His performance improved his batting average to .434 -- the third best in the East region and one of the highest marks in the 3A conference.
LeVac is also second in the East region in home runs. Only Josh Coplan of Lakeside, with six, has more.
Payson also has two others who are among the statistical league leaders.
Behrens is tied with Coplan in stolen bases with 13. Andy Sanders ranks third with 10 successful thefts.
With the regular season at an end, the Horns have set their sights on the state tournament and a possible first round match up against South region runner-up Sahuarita.
If that scenario unfolds as expected, the game would be played noon on Field 4 at Maryvale Baseball Park.
Also advancing to state from the East region will be Blue Ridge, Snowflake and Holbrook.