The powerful three-way punch of Ridge Halenar, Weston Gibson and Hunter Haynes forged the way for the Longhorn baseball team to crank out a pulsating 5-2 upset of the favored Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.
Payson’s victory, April 7 on PHS diamond, improves the Longhorns to 12-5 overall, but most importantly, propels the team into a first-place tie in the East standings with Blue Ridge, Snowflake and Show Low. All are 2-1 in the region.
The Horns’ victory also dropped BR to 13-3 and snapped the Jackets’ six-game winning streak.
Haynes, the Horns mound ace the past two seasons, started on the hill and went the entire seven innings, giving up seven hits, two walks and two earned runs.
He also struck out 13, raising his season’s total to 56, the best mark by far in the East Region.
“He’s really bringing it on. The Blue Ridge coach said he’s one of the best pitchers he’s seen,” coach Jerry Daniels said.
Haynes’ victory also improved his record to 5-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.14. Both marks are region bests.
Not to be overlooked in the sterling pitching effort, is the behind the plate work of Halenar, a senior catcher in charge of calling pitches.
“He kept the Blue Ridge hitters guessing,” Daniels said.
With Haynes wheeling and dealing on the hill, Halenar and Gibson were lighting it up at the plate.
Halenar ripped a single and double in three trips to the plate driving in two runs and scoring one himself.
The performance raised his batting average to .600 second best in the East behind Snowflake’s Robbie Martindale (.621).
Gibson, only a sophomore, contributed a home run, a stolen base, two RBIs and a run scored to the victory. The circuit blast was his his sixth of the season, tying him for second in the East with Martindale.
Gibson also has 30 RBIs, third in the East.
Although the Longhorns entered the game a slight underdog, there was never much doubt which team was going to emerge victorious.
The Horns jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, expanded it to 4-0 in the third, and the 5-0 in the fourth.
In all, the Longhorns pounded out eight hits, one of which was a double by Dakota Marshall.
Blue Ridge scored its only two runs in the top of the sixth.
Daniels praised the players saying, “it was one of the best all-around efforts of the season.”
The Horns return to action today, April 10, in a doubleheader against Estrella Foothills on PHS diamond. Game times are noon and 2 p.m.
The two teams met earlier this season, March 7 at Estrella Foothills, with Payson winning an 8-4 decision.
The Horns are also in action at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow in Winslow.
The clash is a make-up game after one scheduled for earlier this month was postponed due to high winds in Winslow.
Next week will also be huge for the Longhorns with region games against Snowflake (April 14), Show Low (April 17) and a non-region clash against undefeated Chino Valley (April 18).