Class 3A East baseball action turns fast and furious as the Longhorns play three crucial games in the course of one week.
The decisive diamond stretch gets rolling today, Tuesday, in Lakeside-Pinetop where PHS takes on region rival Blue Ridge.
On April 4 in Whiteriver, Payson plays cellar dweller Alchesay before returning home April 8 to host Snowflake.
Of those games, PHS (9-10) should dominate winless Alchesay (0-9) but will have its hooves full against Blue Ridge (11-5) and the Snowflake Lobos (8-9).
Snowflake and Payson are the only 2-0 teams in East play. Blue Ridge is 1-1.
"It's going to be a big week for us," coach Jerry Daniels said.
If the Horns win all three games and improve to 5-0 in the East, the feat would be a huge boost to the young players' confidence and a giant step toward a berth in the post season.
A pair of wins in the three-game stretch would keep the Horns in the running for the region title.
However, if the Horns lose two and fall to 3-2, the team will find itself in a furious fight for a state tournament berth.
In non-region action last week, the Longhorns came from behind March 27 to beat Winslow, of the North, by an 8-6 count.
On March 29 in Globe, Payson fell 11-1 to the South title-contending Tigers.
In the win over coach Art Griffith's Winslow squad, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 6-1 lead after two-and-a-half innings, only to have the Horns rally for six runs in the bottom of the seventh.
Junior Ridge Halenar supplied the hitting heroics in the inning, slugging a game-winning grand slam home run over the right centerfield fence.
Halenar also had a triple and scored two runs.
Freshman infielder Weston Gibson continued to shine offensively, finishing 3-for-4 at the plate with a double. He also scored two runs.
Tyler Savage was 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
Hunter Haynes received the starting nod from Daniels and was credited with the win after hurling all seven innings. During his stint on the hill, he allowed 10 hits, three earned runs, walked one and struck out three.
In the loss to Globe, the Horns fell to a team Daniels feels could contend for the state championship when it is played next month in Phoenix.
"They are good, very good," he said.
Although the Horns were run-ruled in the most-recent loss, that wasn't the situation the first time the two teams met. PHS was much more competitive, losing a 4-3 thriller March 5 in the Miami Invitational.
"In that game, we played ball; the second time, we didn't," Daniels said.
Evidence that the Horns weren't at the top of their game was the whopping seven errors the team committed.
Senior right-hander Anthony Pearce was saddled with the loss, despite giving up just two earned runs. Before being relieved by Sean Dougherty in the fourth, Pearce allowed six hits, walked two and struck out three.