Boys Head To Final Four For First Time Since 1979


Was it a great Payson defense or the opponent's off night that led to the Longhorns' stunning 46-42 state semifinal upset over Seton Catholic High School?

The remarkable Horn showing was probably the result of a bit of both. But, if there was a certainty in the stirring win, it is that Payson is going to the state tournament final four for the first time since 1979.

That 1979 team, coached by Dave Bradley, went on to win the Class 2A state crown.

The current edition of Longhorns will have the opportunity to begin to duplicate that feat at 1:15 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, at the Arena in Glendale.

If the Horns can defeat Holbrook in that final four clash, the team will advance to the state finals at 8 p.m. the following day, also in Glendale, against the winner of a Fountain Hills vs. Coolidge semifinal game.

Against Holbrook, the Horns will be pitted against a team they've beaten twice during the regular season.

In a 3A East region contest against the same team Jan. 3, the Horns won 52-45.

On Feb. 9, the Longhorns took their second win over the Roadrunners, 70-62.

The irony of the state final four that includes Holbrook, Payson, Fountain Hills and Coolidge is that none of the four finalists entered the tournament as No. 1 seeds and none represent the highly touted North region.

North region champion and state No. 1 ranked Window Rock, a pre-tournament 3A title favorite, was defeated, 67-60, in the elite eight by Fountain Hills.

For Fountain Hills, senior Alex Bunk, a former Longhorn, poured in 28 points and hauled in 14 rebounds.

Prior to the game, Bunk said he remains close to his former PHS teammates, especially Miles Huff, but enjoys playing for the Valley school.

"I hope we get to play them (in the championship)," he said.

The North's other three seeds, Monument Valley, Winslow and Ganado never made it past the first round.

But the absence of the reservation area teams didn't mean a downturn in attendance.

For most tournament games, upwards of 5,000 fans turned out -- most from the Hopi, Navajo and Apache reservations.

While their presence was a boon for the Arizona Interscholastic Association coffers, it renders parking a nightmare near Walkup Skydome on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

Payson's vociferous contingent of supporters, which numbered about 200, filled one end of Walkup Skydome.

For the upcoming state game, Payson school officials are considering sending at least three booster buses filled with students and fans to Arena.

Whipping Chandler

In Payson's win over Chandler Seton, the Horns played lethargically throughout the first half, falling behind, 17-11, 19-13 and 22-15.

Matt Wilson's layup at the buzzer pulled the Horns to within 22-17 at halftime.

The clash turned Payson's way early in the third quarter when the Horns scored the first 11 points.

Hunter Hardt's three-pointer, with 6:17 remaining, gave PHS a 24-22 lead.

Down the stretch, as Chandler attempted to battle back from behind, senior point guard Miles Huff stepped up to handle floor general duties by consistently bringing the ball up court against the pressing defense.

Huff also hit a 15-foot jumper with 2:26 remaining that gave the Horns a 30-29 lead.

Cody York's basket upped the Horns' cushion to 32-29 at the end of the third quarter.

In the final few minutes of play, Hardt's three-of-four free-throw shooting helped keep Chandler at bay and preserved the four-point win.

Oliver Lewinson took game scoring honors with 11 points, Huff finished with 10 and York had eight.

The win over Seton proved to be revenge of sorts for the Longhorns, who were eliminated this past year from the state tournament by a 62-55 loss to the Chandler school.

View a photo gallery of the boys' win over Seton Catholic.

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