Two Baseball Players Honored On Region First Team

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Prestigious All-East Region first-team honors have been doled out to a pair of Longhorn standouts who paced the PHS baseball team to a berth in the state tournament.

Pitcher/utility player Jacob Willis and sophomore catcher Ridge Halenar were selected to the team in a voting of coaches, held at the conclusion of the regular season.

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Payson High School pitcher Jake Willis has been named an All-East region first team player for his performance during the 2007 season.

The coaches also tapped Jason Sweet and Tyler Savage as second-team members and Hunter Haynes and Zac Miller as honorable mention recipients.

Willis, who coaches say had the talent to play about any position asked of him, wrapped up the regular season as the second leading hitter in the region, with a .560 average.

He also led the East in stolen bases with 21 and had 27 RBIs.

Despite suffering an ankle injury at the conclusion of the regular season, Willis returned to the lineup with a vengeance in a state tournament 9-6, opening-round loss to the Winslow Bulldogs.

In hurling 6 and a third innings, Willis was able to keep the North region champions at bay, until a couple of miss-played fly ball triples fueled Winslow rallies.

Willis was eventually saddled with the loss after giving up seven hits and five earned runs.

Following the season, Daniels said of Willis, "He led or was at the top of almost every category, statistically, all year."

Willis' battery mate, all season long, was Halenar.

Although his defensive skills were a key to the Longhorns' run to a state berth, his bat also played a huge role in the success of the team.

At the plate, he hit .439 with 40 RBIs and four home runs. Halenar was also rock-solid and dependable, appearing in all 30 of the Longhorn games.

Second team

Sweet, a senior, four-year letter winner, has been the Longhorns' No. 1 pitcher most of his career.

During the past season, he compiled a 4-6 record with a 6.22 ERA.

Offensively, he hit at a .381 clip, which included eight doubles.

Sweet has said he hopes to go on to play in college, possibly at Grand Canyon University.

Savage, one of a talented crew of five sophomores on the PHS varsity, finished with a .433 average in a team leading 90 plate appearances. He also slugged 10 doubles, five triples, a home run and had 21 RBIs.

The success of the five sophomores, which included Gage Conway, Hunter Haynes, Ryan Williams, Halenar and Savage, prompted Daniels to declare, "Longhorns fans should have a lot to look forward to next year."

Honorable mention

Haynes compiled a 6-1 record for the Longhorns with a 3.50 ERA, in 38 innings pitched.

Offensively, he sported a .293 average with six doubles and two home runs.

Miller, a senior who also starred on the Longhorn football team, hit .282 in 28 games. In 71 at-bats, he had 14 RBIs.

Coach's comments

Members of the 2007 team gathered one final time Thursday night for the annual awards banquet.

Daniels characterized the year as a good season in which the team finished 18-11 and attained one goal of advancing to state.

He also expressed some disappointment.

"It was not as good as we expected going into the season," he said.

"We were expecting our region to be down, but found Snowflake, Holbrook and Show Low much stronger than expected."

Holbrook advanced to the 3A state championship game where the Runners lost to Wickenburg. Coach Dave Nickolaus' Show Low team reached the Sweet 16 and Snowflake advanced to the state semifinals.

Daniels said he was extremely proud of his team for playing well against all three state contenders.

As for the future, Daniels is predicting the young Horns will be a force to reckon with.

"We will return our four juniors, the five sophomores and one freshman as lettermen," he said. "We have some great players coming up from the jayvee squad that should be able to fill any holes we have."

Those holes will include replacing the four seniors, Matt Jones, Sweet, Willis and Miller, who will graduate with the class of 2007.

"We will miss them. They provided great leadership last year," Daniels said.

3A East Region honorees

Coach of the Year: Aaron Huish

Player of the Year: Derek Fusselman

First Team All Region

Jojo Murphy (Show Low), Olen Hatch (Holbrook), Jacob Willis (Payson), Cooper Wagner (Round Valley), Ridge Halenar (Payson), Jared Hatch (Holbrook), Roman Middelton (Holbrook), Ren Bryant (Snowflake), Cody Rodriguez (Snowflake), Derek Brewer (Show Low), Terry Dempsey (Blue Ridge), Hondo Castenada (Blue Ridge)

Second Team All Region

Adam Coor (Snowflake), Clay Hathaway (Show Low), Justin Maestas (Holbrook), Jason Sweet (Payson), Randall Cosen (Alchesay), Kellin Walker (Round Valley), Tyler Savage (Payson), Victor Paz (Holbrook), Jared McArthur (Show Low), Kendall Swafford (Blue Ridge), Logan Rogers (Snowflake)

Honorable Mention

Payson: Hunter Haynes, Zach Miller / Alchesay: Jacob Ethelbah, Elias Walker / Round Valley: Tyson Peterson, Evan Hamblin / Blue Ridge: Dustin Simmons, Robert Day / Show Low: Billy Young, Justin McNeil / Holbrook: Scott Baker, Ryan Slade / Snowflake: Cody Overley, Travis Reddick

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