Boosters can bet the family farm the Longhorns will have their hooves full today, April 7, against the visiting Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.
That’s because the Lakeside baseball team arrives for the 4 p.m. clash with an impressive 13-2 record, 2-0 in the East, and on a six-game winning streak. The Jackets also sport a .436 team batting average, which is .48 better than the Horns.
The Jackets also field better than PHS, .948 to .872, and boast a higher on-base percentage, .510 to .465.
But, the game will be a highly unpredictable high school baseball clash between two longtime region rivals. History has proven fans and boosters can throw out the statistics when the Jackets and the Horns collide.
The hitting of Dustin Simmons and Nick Johnson and the pitching of Justin Espin pace BR.
Simmons, an exceptional athlete who last fall quarterbacked the Jacket football team in BR’s state championship double overtime loss to Payson, is hitting .512 with 11 stolen bases.
Johnson has shown some power this year with two home runs, and Espino sports a 2.86 ERA with two wins.
The trio has Blue Ridge off and running and White Mountain baseball fans believing this edition might be a team capable of contending for both region and state honors.
Payson enters the East fray with an 11-5 record, 1-1 in the East, and still reeling from an 11-2 loss on April 4 to the visiting Globe Tigers.
If Payson has an edge against BR, it could be on the mound where Hunter Haynes has proven the last two years to be one of the finest pitchers in the 3A conference. The lanky right-hander’s 2.17 ERA is the best in the East as is his 43 strikeouts.
With four victories, he’s tied with teammate Keaton Duran for most wins.
With Haynes and Duran available for duty, coach Jerry Daniels has two fine hurlers at his beck and call.
Offensively, the Payson cause is bolstered by a bevy of hitters that remind some of the 1999 PHS state championship team’s lineup of Bryan Zumbro, Hunter Walden, Jeremy Reynolds, Cade Bradley and Marc Bennett.
Ridge Halenar, who has played in all 16 games is hitting .596 with 19 runs scored, 15 RBIs and two doubles.
Sophomore Westin Gibson is hitting at a .458 clip with six doubles, four triples and five home runs.
Haynes has also swung potent bat, hitting .447 with 14 runs scored and nine RBIs.
In the loss to Globe, which plays in the 3A South Region, both Haynes and Duran saw action, as did Sean Dougherty.
Haynes hurled one inning giving up one hit.
Duran absorbed the loss after giving up four earned runs on two hits. Dougherty hurled six innings allowed nine hits and three earned runs.
Globe scored four unearned runs on five Longhorn errors.
Gibson paced the Horns six-hit attack with two hits, one run scored and two RBIs in four plate appearances. One of his hits was a home run. Halenar had two singles in four trips to the plate Gage Conway and Ever Figueroa were the only other Payson players with hits as the Horns struck out six times and stranded seven base runners.