The ferocious hardwood wars waged in 2006 when Payson battled Fountain Hills for the state basketball championship were rekindled Dec. 18 in the homestanding Falcons’ 54-45 win over the Longhorns.
In Fountain Hills, the Horns jumped out to an early 9-0 lead, but then suffered a huge setback when 6-foot, 5-inch center-forward Dakota Marshall went down with an ankle injury.
“We lost him about two minutes into the game,” coach Jared Swanson said.
Without their leading rebounder and top scorer in the line-up, the Horn offense went sour.
“We couldn’t score,” said assistant coach Byron Quinlan.
Although the Horns led 14-8 at the end of the first quarter, the Falcons rallied for a 28-22 halftime lead.
Payson stayed within six points of the Falcons for most of the second half before FH closed the game with the nine-point cushion.
Cody Waterman had one of his finest games in a Longhorn uniform, finishing with a game-high 22 points and 13 rebounds.
Senior point guard Ever Figueroa, a team captain along with Waterman and Marshall, tallied seven points and corralled six rebounds.
Swanson didn’t immediately have his number of assists, but estimated he dished out his usual number, which has ranged from seven to 12 each game.
Figueroa is quickly establishing a reputation as a point guard who can penetrate into the lane and dish off to open players or hit the short jumper.
“He’s been collapsing defenses,” Swanson said.
Although the Horns were without one of their finest players in the loss, the defeat can be attributed to a lack of production from the free throw line.
The Horns shot just 12 free throws, sinking seven of them. Fountain Hills went to the line 28 times.
So with that differential, was there a little home cookin’ going on in Fountain Hills?
Neither Swanson nor Quinlan wanted to answer that, but Swanson did point out that most of the season the Horns have been going to the line 20-plus times a game.
The extent of Marshall’s ankle injury is unknown, but Swanson expects him to have it examined early this week.
With the school district in recess for the holidays, the Horns will not return to the practice court until Dec. 26.
Game action resumes Dec. 28 to Dec. 30 in the Bradshaw Mountain Invitational.