The Longhorn baseball team took a giant step toward nailing down a spot in the state tournament with a 6-5 win over longtime East rival, Blue Ridge.
With the victory, April 20 on PHS diamond, the Horns improved their East region record to 6-4 and are now alone in fourth place with just one week and two games remaining in the season. The Horns regular season wraps up April 24 with a game against Round Valley and April 26 against Show Low. Both are home games.
If the Horns continue to cling to fourth place, the team would advance to the state tournament, set to begin May 4 at Maryvale Baseball Park, as the region's final seed. In the first round, the Horns would be pitted against the North region champion, probably Winslow.
Currently in the region standings, Snowflake (8-2) holds down the top slot and is an odds-on favorite to win the title.
Trailing are Holbrook (8-3), Show Low (7-3) and Payson. Blue Ridge is fifth, with a 5-5 mark.
Alchesay (0-9) and Round Valley (0-8) are out of the running.
In whipping Blue Ridge in Friday's crucial showdown, the Horns took an early 4-0 lead and then survived a four-run Yellow Jacket outburst in the top of the sixth.
Senior right-hander Jason Sweet received the starting nod from coach Jerry Daniels and went the distance on the hill, giving up three earned runs.
He also struck out three and walked just one, while facing 28 opposing batsmen.
Hunter Haynes, Dale Williams and Jacob Willis contributed two hits each in the narrow victory.
Sophomore Ridge Halenar swatted a home run and Tyler Savage added a double and two RBIs.
The Payson defense was at the top of its game, committing just one error.
In the East region individual standings, Willis continues to be the batting average leader, with a .566 mark. He also is tops in stolen bases, with 21.
Anthony Pearce sports a .656 ERA that is best in the region.
In the battle for fielding leader honors, Halenar is tied for first with Holbrook's Rick Davea and Chase Jones of Snowflake. All three sport 1.000 fielding marks.