Rebounding from heartbreaking defeat is one of the toughest obstacles young high school players face.
That fact of prep sports life is what renders the Longhorn freshmen boys basketball team's recent accomplishments most impressive.
After dropping the team's first decision of the year on Jan. 13 with a loss of 75-64 to Blue Ridge, the freshmen returned to the hardwood three days later with a vengeance, edging homestanding Round Valley, 63-61.
Just two days after the win in Eagar/Springerville, the Longhorns continued along the road of improvement, whipping Show Low, 40-27, in Payson.
An East region clash originally scheduled for Jan. 20 in Holbrook was postponed due to snow and poor road conditions in the White Mountain and Rim Country areas.
In besting Show Low, the PHS freshmen built a 13-5 early cushion, then expanded it throughout the remainder of the game.
Coach Joe LaSalandra attributed the Horn onslaught to "an aggressive man defense, full court pressure, fast breaks and rebounding."
During a third-quarter stint, when Show Low went to a zone defense, the freshmen responded to the strategy change by hitting five three-pointers.
"Cody Waterman made three and Sean Daugherty and Ever Figueroa had two," LaSalandra said.
The Horn rally reached a fourth quarter climax when Payson outscored the Cougars 26-3.
Figueroa wrapped up the evening as the scoring leader with 24 points. Daughtery had 16, Waterman 14 and Elden Siverson had eight.
"This is probably our best game of the season in that we executed all of our offenses effectively adjusting to changes in Show Low's ‘D,'" LaSalandra said. "When Show Low went to a zone, the players caught-shot the ball in rhythm which caused them to come out of the zone."
In edging Round Valley by two points, the PHS freshmen again relied on a pressure man defense.
"It helped us establish a lead and maintain it throughout the game," LaSalandra said. "We also controlled the boards pulling down 34 rebounds."
Of those retrieves, Waterman had 10 and Dakota Marshall had six.
The contest, which at times appeared to be easily flowing Payson's way, turned nip and tuck in the final four seconds when Round Valley cashed in on a three-pointer to close the Horn lead to two points.
"I called time out and reentered the starters, putting them in full court pressure with no fouls," LaSalandra said. "Time ran out as Round Valley was trying to move against our press."
Friday the 13th is widely considered bad luck in most circles, but it was Saturday the 13th that spelled the demise of the freshmen's 10 game-winning streak.
"We battled throughout the contest, but our comeback stalled and fell short in the fourth quarter," LaSalandra said.
"Going (into the final quarter), we were down, 50-49, but Blue Ridge made six of nine free throws and nine of 14 shots (from the field)."
While Blue Ridge was heating up, Payson went cold, hitting only five of 20 attempts in the stanza.
"The Yellow Jackets frustrated us defensively and blocked out well, keeping us from going to the boards," LaSalandra said. "They forced us out of our offense and we did not execute or play defense."
Figueroa led all scorers with 18 points.