If there is a certainty in prep sports, it is that nothing is certain.
For example, most East baseball fans probably believed prior to the Longhorns’ April 21 game in Eagar-Springerville that the Horns would run roughshod over the Elks.
That thinking made sense — in an earlier meeting of the two, on March 31, Payson run-ruled the bugle boys, 10-0, in only five innings.
Also rendering the Horns a huge favorite was that Round Valley had won only one East game this season and was a lowly 7-11 overall.
The Horns were riding along 17-7, 4-3 in the East, hitting the ball at a record-setting pace and one of the favorites, along with Blue Ridge and Show Low, to win the region championship.
But in Springerville on Tuesday, the Elks pulled off the upset of the season, whipping the Horns 8-6 and proving that nothing is firm and definite in prep sports.
The ambush in Apache County might have been the biggest surprise since Hannibal slaughtered the Romans at the Battle of the Trebia River.
In addition to Payson’s defeat being a shocker, it dropped the Horns’ East record to 4-3 and into a tie for third place in the standings with the Snowflake Lobos.
Blue Ridge, which plays Payson today, April 24 in Lakeside, is all alone atop the standings with a 6-1 mark.
With 5-2 credentials, Show Low is second.
Although the loss to Round Valley is a stunner, the Longhorns could climb back into championship contention with a win over Blue Ridge and in the final two regular season games of the season — April 28 at Alchesay Whiteriver and May 1 vs. Snowflake on the PHS field.
That would put Payson at 7-3 and possibly in a tie for the East Region title. That’s exactly what happened last season when Show Low and PHS dead-knotted for the crown.
In the loss to Round Valley, the Horns jumped out early much as the team had done in the first game between the two rivals.
Leading 5-0 in the top of the second, the Horns gave up two runs in the bottom of the frame and two in the third to see their lead reduced to a single run 5-4.
Payson scored one run in the top of the fourth to take a 6-4 cushion, but RV salvaged the victory by rallying for four runs in the bottom of the fifth.
Hunter Haynes, Dakota Marshall and Keaton Duran shared pitching chores combining to give up 10 hits, six of which Marshall allowed.
Offensively, Ridge Halenar was a perfect 4-for-4 with one triple, four RBIs and a run scored.
The only other player with more than one hit, Weston Gibson, ripped a triple and a single in three plate appearances.
Edwin Estrada had a double.
The Horns played reasonably well defensively, committing two errors.
Top gun shot down
As tough as the loss was to absorb for players, coaches and fans, it was a 5-4 win April 18 over Chino Valley that had PHS faithful hooting and a hollering.
The hoopla was because Chino Valley entered the fray with a 20-1 record and touted as the state’s finest 3A baseball team.
Following the one-run loss to Payson and a 6-4 defeat to Winslow, Chino Valley’s once lofty reputation is now tarnished.
Much of the credit for the Horns’ win has to go to hurler Sean Dougherty who pitched the entire seven innings scattering 10 hits.
Gibson led the hit parade with a single and double in four trips to the plate.
On April 18 in Show Low, coach David Nikolaus’ Cougars took their second win of the season over PHS surviving an 8-7 region thriller.
Although the Horns out-hit the Cougars 10-8, Show Low scored the winning run in the bottom of the sixth on a passed ball.
Hunter Haynes, the Horns’ mound ace the past two seasons, started and hurled five innings before giving way to Sean Dougherty. Haynes gave up six earned runs on seven hits while striking out seven and walking three.
For Payson, Gibson was 3-for-4 including a double and a home run. Ever Figueroa was 2-for-4 with a double.