The Payson Longhorn basketball team made it to the final round of the 3A state tournament Saturday after a Friday win against Holbrook.
The Longhorns finished in the tournament, losing to the Fountain Hills Falcons, 53-41.
The Falcons raced out to an 18-12 first-quarter lead, thanks to the shooting of forward Alex Bunk, a player who transferred to Fountain Hills from Payson after his freshman year.
After the first quarter, Coach Chuck Hardt instructed his team to stay with Bunk and not let him have open shots.
Carlos Lopez stayed with Bunk, and the Longhorns roared back and outscored the Falcons to open the second quarter.
With five minutes left in the second quarter, Oliver Lewinson picked up his third foul, which resulted in Hardt taking his center out of the game.
Even with Lewinson on the bench, the Longhorns stayed with the Falcons, and had a two-point lead late in the first half. The teams were tied, 26-26, at the break.
The third quarter was all about the Falcons with Bunk hitting three three-pointers, outscoring Payson by eight points.
Down by eight going into the final quarter, Payson made one last charge.
With Lewinson hitting shots inside and Cody York driving to the hoop, the Longhorns outscored the Falcons by seven in the first four minutes and 42 seconds of the quarter.
Bunk then made what was probably the play of the game. Leading by three, he drove the lane, and, as he shot the ball, he was fouled, and converted the free throw for a three-point play.
Bunk, who led all scorers with 31 points, would later hit another three.
Hardt said, he was surprised Bunk was able to hit shots off the dribble in the second half, mentioning his team held him scoreless in the second quarter.
When Lewinson went to the bench early in the second quarter, Hardt said, his thought process was to have his center in the game down the stretch.
"I thought we came back pretty well in the second quarter," the coach said. But when his team fell behind in the third quarter, he became concerned because "offensively, we were not clicking."
Even with Lewinson in foul trouble, he led the Horns with 23 points, York chipped in another eight.
The Falcons won their third consecutive state championship Saturday.
Hardt said experience was a key factor.
"When you assume you are going to win, that is a big deal," he said.
The goal of his team, he said, was to play the Falcons close, and then see how they would react in a close game.
Payson vs. Holbrook
The semifinal game against the Holbrook Roadrunners started out with the Horns scoring only six points in the first quarter.
Down by six at the half, the Longhorns outscored the Roadrunners, 12-0, to start the quarter.
Lewinson saved the nip-and-tuck game with a key block of an Olin Hatch shot with 1.6 seconds left in the game. Holbrook had one last chance, but a last-second shot by Jason Belin was short.
Payson coach, Chuck Hardt, said, defensively, the Longhorns did not have a good off-the-ball defense.
The Roadrunners' lead grew to 11 in the second quarter before Payson rallied to cut the deficit to six at halftime.
With almost four minutes left in the game, Ricky Attaki hit two back-to-back three-pointers to give the Roadrunners a two-point lead.
Payson guard Hunter Hardt responded with a three-pointer of his own as Payson recaptured the lead.
Point guard Miles Huff, on three consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter, came up empty with Attaki getting two steals, resulting in the Roadrunners taking their last lead.
"(Holbrook) knew Miles was our bread and butter," he said, adding that his point guard responded down the stretch.
"We needed him on the floor at the end," he said.
After Holbrook took the lead, Lewinson was fouled with 54 seconds left and sank both free throws to give Payson a one-point lead.
With 35 seconds remaining in the game, Hardt stole the ball and fed Miles Huff for a layup and a three-point lead.
With about 15 seconds left, Belin hit a short jumper to cut the lead to one.
After Lewinson barely overthrew point guard Miles Huff on a baseball pass, with 10 seconds left, he blocked Hatch's shot out of bounds with less than two seconds left in the game.
Lewinson led Payson in scoring with 17 points, while Huff chipped in another 14. Hardt and Levi Neal added eight points each.
After Saturday night's game, Hardt said, the goal at the start of the season was to win state. He was not sure his team could reach that level, especially when Robert Walker was injured early in the season.
"It was a wonderful season," he said. "I loved it. These kids came together and played (their hearts out)."
The coach said a bonus to him this year was being able to coach his son, Hunter.
View a photo gallery of the Longhorns in action at the state tournament.