A 78-40 victory over the Show Low Cougars has the Longhorns steaming toward their second successive East Region title and an advantageous berth into the postseason.
With the win over the Cats, chalked up Jan. 27 in Wilson Dome, the Horns are 5-1 in the East (13-10 overall) and all alone in first place, one game ahead of the Snowflake Lobos and Alchesay Falcons. Both are 4-2.
With four games remaining on the schedule, Payson needs to win to ensure itself of the title outright.
The most crucial stretch game will be a season-ending Feb. 7 showdown in Wilson Dome against Snowflake.
The Lobos own a “W” over PHS having squeaked by the Horns 68-66 Jan. 23 in Snowflake.
For the upcoming game, Payson will have the home court advantage and most likely be out to avenge their only East loss in two seasons.
Of course, whipping the Lobos means shutting down Payton Flake, Travis Reddick and James Denhaller.
Flake averages a team-high 13 ppg, Reddick is the team’s designated outside shooter and Denhaller is one of their finest rebounders.
In the last meeting between the two teams, a whopping 26 turnovers spelled the demise of the Horns.
If Longhorn Coach Kenny Hayes can correct those maladies, the Horns could be celebrating an East championship and a third consecutive state berth.
For the postseason playoffs, power points will be used to seed the 16 qualifying teams into the tournament.
Currently Payson is in decent shape sitting in eighth with 75.9 points.
Powerful and top-ranked Estrella Foothills is first overall with 102 power points.
Payson is the highest ranked power points team in the East with the next region school being 16th-ranked Snowflake (60.88).
Payson returns to East action Jan. 30 in Springerville-Eagar against the Round Valley Elks.
The Elks are 2-4 in the East (12-14 overall) but are dangerous mostly due to the presence of two of the region’s top scorers — T.J. Peters (14.2 ppg) and Duskin Donaldson (12.2).
The Horns will counter with a proven rifleman of their own in senior Cody York. He’s averaging 13.8 ppg and is second in the East behind Peters.
Game time in Elk land is 7:30 p.m.