A Longhorn win today, Tuesday, over the homestanding Snowflake Lobos would be further proof that the boys basketball team (14-6) is among the school's finest of the past two decades.
Not only would a "W" keep the Horns tied for the East region lead with the Alchesay Falcons, it would represent a rare sweep of a Lobo program, that not many years ago dominated the Snowflake vs. Payson rivalry in almost all sports.
The possibility of a clean sweep over Snowflake presented itself Jan. 5 in Wilson Dome after the Horns opened up with a 34-21 lead over the Lobos and then coasted to a 70-49 triumph.
In the win, 6-foot, 8-inch junior center/forward Oliver Lewinson turned in a monster effort scoring a game high 20 points and corralling 17 rebounds.
He was also an intimidator in the paint, blocking four Lobo shots and altering several other attempts.
While Lewinson was dominating in the low blocks, the Horns outside game received a nice boost from Bryson Addington. The senior guard made good on a trio of three point attempts, while a sagging Show Low zone defense tried to slow the inside game.
Following that victory, the Longhorns stumbled through a three game losing streak dropping contests to Seton Catholic, 59-56, state No. 1 ranked Estrella Foothills, 85-77, and Blue Ridge, 79-75.
The loss to Blue Ridge was the Horns' lone East region setback this season.
Since being stung by the Jackets, the Horns have rebounded to whip Round Valley, Show Low, and Holbrook.
If the Horns can slip by Snowflake, their focus would turn to the five remaining East region games on the regular season schedule.
A pair of those clashes is against an Alchesay team that is battling the Horns tooth and nail for the East title.
Payson travels to Alchesay Jan. 27, and the Horns host the Falcons Jan. 31. The second meeting represents a rescheduling of a Jan. 12 game that had to be postponed due to weather.
The outcome of the two late season Payson vs. Alchesay games could decide the East championship and the top seed to the postseason regional and state tournaments.
Cougars clawed; Elk bugle silenced
In whipping Show Low Jan. 18 in Wilson Dome, the Horns left little doubt early on as to which was the better team. After building a 17-10 lead, Payson expanded it to 35-23 at halftime. By the end of the third quarter, Payson was enjoying a 55-33 cushion. In the final going, the Longhorn reserves showed no mercy outscoring the feeble Cats, 22-9.
"We all played hard," said senior reserve Matt Jones.
In the romp, all but two of the players on the Horns roster broke into the scoring column.
As Lewinson has done much of the season, he led the offense with 20 points. He also muscled his way inside for 11 rebounds, blocked five shots and contributed two steals.
Lewinson also had just one turnover in a game in which Payson committed 21 miscues.
Just two days prior to derailing the Show Low express, the Horns traveled to Round Valley High School in Eagar/ Springerville where wins in the school's massive 3,000 seat dome‚ which RV fans call their "Dome on the Range" -- can be hard to come by.
But the Horns refused to be intimidated by their surroundings, rallying for a six-point victory.
After falling behind early, 21-14, the Horns pulled to within 31-27 at halftime.
The Elks refused to blink under the onslaught and went on a 15-6 run that had Payson on the ropes.
In the final stanza, the Horns staged what was at least the stepmother of all rallies, outscoring Round Valley, 24-17.
As a numeral is a constant in algebraic expressions, Lewinson is the Horns' unvarying contributor in the team offense and defense. Against Round Valley, he tallied 23 points, hauled in nine rebounds, blocked two shots and pilfered two errant enemy passes.
About his only shortcoming in the game was from the free throw line, where he hit three of his seven freebies.
Carlos Lopez had 11 points, eight rebounds and four steals. Addington finished with 11 points and four assists. Miles Huff tallied eight points and slipped in from his point guard position for five rebounds.