Pursuit of the state championship that has narrowly escaped the Longhorns the past two seasons begins tomorrow, Feb. 21, in Wilson Dome against Sedona Red Rock.
Game time is 7 p.m.
In 2007 and 2008, the Horns had to settle for state runner-up honors, losing first to Fountain Hills and a year later to Estrella Foothills.
This year, Estrella is once again highly regarded in the state mix, but before the Horns can begin thinking about a revenge match they must slip past the 11th-seeded Scorpions of Sedona.
Payson (18-10) enters the clash clutching a No. 6 seed earned on power points during the team’s climb to the East Region regular season and tournament championships.
Payson also owns a victory over the Scorpions, having beaten the Red Rock crew 58-42 on Dec. 19.
If the Horns can squash the Scorpions, the team would advance to a second game, probably against No. 3-seeded Chinle of the North Region.
Because the Wildcats are the home team, PHS would travel Feb. 27 to Chinle where the school boasts what is widely considered the finest high school basketball arena in the country.
The Wildcats also draw crowds of upward to 7,000 fans, which would definitely give Chinle the home-court advantage.
However, the good news for Payson in the AIA’s final tournament seedings is that the Horns are in the lower eight-team bracket and will not have to meet No. 1-ranked Estrella Foothills until the championship finale, if PHS makes it that far.
Coach Kenny Hayes and his charges wrapped up the season Feb. 14 in Whiteriver, but did not learn until three days later that they had been awarded the sixth seed.
The delay was due to a recruiting violation in Globe that was appealed to the AIA Executive Board and later turned down.
With the rejection, Globe — which had 21 wins and a No. 4 seed at season’s end — had to forfeit all of the games (nine) the ineligible athlete played in.
That dropped the Tigers out of the state’s top 16 teams and the state tournament.
The violation, which had to do with the AIA’s domicile rule, occurred when Globe coach Jim Action had a player living with him whose domicile paperwork had not been turned in to the AIA.
The infraction is almost exactly what transpired at Payson High School during the 2006-2007 school year.
Near the end of the girls basketball season, PHS administrators reported basketball star Rhea Cosay was not a legal resident of the Payson Unified School District.
As in Globe, the Lady Horns had to forfeit all games Cosay had played in and PHS was ousted from the state tournament.
Payson takes to the state tournament the East Region’s leading scorer in senior guard Cody York (15.5 ppg) and another solid offensive standout in Tyler Savage (8.6 ppg).
Matt Wilson, a 6-foot-6-inch, 250-pound senior, gives the Longhorns a big presence in the middle whether it is defending or scoring on second shot attempts.
Shane Keith and Ever Figueroa share playmaking duties and Cody Waterman gives the Horns a three-point scoring threat.
That group, mixed in with Dakota Marshall, Ryan Hintze and Jeff Day, give the Horns a well-rounded team that has been the class of the East.
It’s now time to see of the group is the class of the state.