A trio of East region games is all that stands between the Longhorn boy's basketball team and the East region regular season championship.
Those games tip off today, Tuesday, at Blue Ridge and continue Feb. 1 against Alchesay and Feb. 2 with Snowflake. Both those games will be in Wilson Dome.
The Horns enter the frays armed with a 17-6 overall mark and 7-0 East credentials.
PHS will be solid favorites to wrap up the region campaign undefeated, mostly because the team recorded earlier season wins over the remaining three foes.
Payson has beaten Blue Ridge, 71-36, Alchesay 80-52 and Snowflake 76-53.
If Payson wins the regular season championship outright, the team would take a No. 1 seed into the regional tournament set for Feb. 8 and 9 at Round Valley High School in Eagar-Springerville.
Having the top seed would result in Payson playing only in the tournament championship game at RVHS.
Which would mean, even if PHS lost that game the team would be awarded a tournament silver medal finish.
In the state playoffs set to begin Feb. 12 in Flagstaff and culminated Feb. 23 in Glendale, state seeding will be decided on the new power-point system.
While there are a number of ways the state tournament seeding could pan out, one possible scenario -- based on current but incomplete power point rankings -- would have the Horns taking the No. 4 seed.
A possible first-round opponent might be the Snowflake Lobos with a No. 13 seed. Fountain Hills and Window Rock are also possible first-round foes.
For the tournament, Estrella Foothills is almost a lock to receive the top seed. Safford, Monument Valley, Payson and Chino Valley will all be battling this week for the two through five seeds.
All the 3A team's power points will be finalized at the end of the regular season, about Feb. 2, when the top 16 teams will be seeded into the post season.
Elks corralled, EF runs rampant
The Longhorns tuned up for the season finales and the postseason with a 59-50 win over Round Valley and the following day during 73-45 loss to state No. 1 ranked Estrella Foothills. Payson beat RV Jan. 25, but lost the following day to EF
In whipping Round Valley (14-12; 4-3), the Horn defense held the East region's leading scorer Evan Hamblin to 14 points. The Elk sharpshooter entered the game averaging 24.4 ppg. Hamblin is also one of the region's best long-range shooters but hit just one three-pointer in the loss to PHS.
In the loss to Estrella Foothills, the Wolves' full court defensive pressure -- which coach Ty Amundsen elected to keep on the entire game -- completely stalled a Longhorn offense that had been hitting on all cylinders during its eight-game winning streak.
Estrella was buoyed during the evening by a small but quick lineup that included the team's two leading scorers -- Brandon and Corey Hawkins.
The pair didn't turn in a game that highlighted the stat charts, but the two were impressive at both ends of the court.
Although Payson boasted a distinct height advantage, the team wasn't able to use it to their advantage down low.
Wolves' players often used their quickness to corral rebounds while taller Horn players were missing second shot attempts.
For Payson, Oliver Lewinson and Tyler Savage took scoring honors with 11 points each.
Following the game, Hayes thanked the large contingent of fans who showed up to support the team.
"We hope that type of support continues the rest of the season," he said.
Although the game was billed as a possible preview of the eventual state championship match-up, Horn coach Kenny Hayes said before the game, he was not going to use any special schemes or gimmicks to counteract EF's potent lineup.
As much publicity as the game attracted around the state, it actually meant little in the standings because Payson represents the East region and Estrella Foothills is aligned in the West.
However, if the two teams meet again in the state tournament, it will be a for-all-the-marbles elimination game.