If the postseason playoffs were held today, the Payson Longhorns would not be advancing.
But, with six East region games remaining on the East schedule, the Horns have the opportunity to improve on their current fifth-place slot in the region standings. Only the top four teams in the final rankings advance to the state playoffs. The more games the Horns (11-8 and 1-3) can win during the final six, the better their East record will be, which will result in a higher, and more advantageous, seed to state.
"The race is wide open right now," said coach Jerry Daniels. "I was predicting we would be one or two, but with Snowflake (5-1) on a run, they could win (the East title)."
Payson fell to its current fifth-place slot April 3, with an 11-9 loss to longtime East rival, Show Low.
Coach David Nikolaus' Cougars, with a 3-2 East record, currently hold down the runner-up spot in the region. Trailing are Blue Ridge (3-1) and Holbrook (3-1).
In falling to the Cats, Payson opened on a rampage, scoring three runs in the top of the first.
But the Cats refused to be outdone, scoring 11 runs over the course of five innings.
The Horns rallied for three runs in the fifth, one in the sixth and two in the seventh, but the comeback attempt came up just short of a win.
Sophomore catcher Ridge Halenar had a day to tell Mom about, finishing 4-for-4 at the plate with two RBIs and three runs scored. A pair of Halenar's hits were doubles. Tyler Savage was 3-for-4 with one RBI and two runs scored.
Jacob Willis, the East region's leading hitter with a .581 average, continued to swing a hot bat, with two singles in three plate appearances.
His season-long performances have drawn praise from Daniels.
"His improvement is because he is so focused, he knows what he wants and he's working for it," he said. "His goals are to be the (East's) player of the year and go on to play in college."
On the mound in the loss to Show Low, Grand Canyon University-bound Jason Sweet got the starting nod from Daniels and hurled four-and-a-third innings before giving way to junior reliever Anthony Pearce.
During Sweet's stint on the hill, he gave up nine earned runs, two home runs and was forced to absorb the loss.
Pearce, who has the lowest ERA in the region at .724, hurled two and two-third innings, allowing a double and striking out one.
Runners on deck
The Horns returned to East region action yesterday, Thursday, on the PHS diamond against the Holbrook Roadrunners. (Results not available at press time).
In an earlier meeting between the two teams, March 13 in Holbrook, the Horns lost a 3-2 nail-biter. In taking on the Runners, Payson also faced an old foe from the past basketball season.
Olen Hatch, a 6-foot-4-inch senior who was the East's basketball player of the year, is excelling in baseball, as well as he did on the hardwood. His .778 ERA is second in the East only to Pearce. The Runners also sport an outstanding hitter in Justin Maestas (.519) and slick defensive players in Nick Daves and Adrcial Aurieola.