Longhorn pursuit of an East region tournament championship and a highly advantageous top seed into the Class 3A state finals begins at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Snowflake High School gymnasium.
The Horns enter the postseason as East co-champion and No. 1 seed.
The co-championship, along with Alchesay, was nailed down Feb. 6 in Wilson Dome, where the Horns upset the state No. 2 ranked Falcons 53-51.
Earlier in the season in Whiteriver, the Falcons beat the Horns 70-58.
Immediately after the Longhorns' regular season ending win over the Falcons, a coin toss was held to determine region seeds. Payson won the coin toss and Alchesay, by signaling for a losing call of "heads." fell to second.
With the top seed in tow, the Horns open regional tournament action against the winner of an earlier Round Valley vs. Holbrook clash. Round Valley entered the postseason as the region's fifth-place finisher and Holbrook was fourth.
Whichever team the Horns face this evening, PHS will do so as a favorite, having handily defeated both the Roadrunners and the Elks during the regular season.
If Payson survives its first game, the Horns would play at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow for the tournament championship.
The likely opponent would be Alchesay, but only if the Falcons can dispense of either Snowflake or Blue Ridge in a state semifinal game to be played at 2 p.m. today.
If the Horns should fall today against either Round Valley or the Roadrunners, Payson would play at 2 p.m. tomorrow for a state third place seed.
As unlikely as two Longhorn region tournament losses would be, double defeats would still send PHS to state -- but as a lowly No. 4 seed.
The state tournament opens Feb. 13 and 14 on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
In this evening's regional tournament opener, the Horns could again be without the services of senior forward Carlos Lopez who injured his ankle Feb. 3 in a win over Show Low.
Since the injury, Lopez has not played or practiced. At school Wednesday afternoon, he remained on crutches.
Coach Chuck Hardt said Lopez's status for this evening is "doubtful."
If he is not ready, Cody York, will replace him in the lineup.
The mostly untested sophomore proved ready for the varsity challenge by scoring a team high of 14 points in the win over the Falcons.
Senior point guard Miles Huff also gave the Horn cause a huge boost with 10 assists.
Entering the for-all-the-marbles showdown, Payson appeared to have little chance of victory, having lost Lopez, the team's best defender, as well as Bryson Addington and Rob Walker.
Addington, a starting guard, quit the team in late January and Walker was shelved earlier in the month with a broken ankle suffered in a non-basketball related accident.
Playing without the trio, the remaining starters and a band of reserves somehow mustered the wherewithal to go on a season-ending, four-game winning streak.
"The players never lost their composure," Hardt said.