Inclement weather that forced the cancellation of several Longhorn baseball practices and sent other sessions indoors has not dampened the team’s potential.
Proof the Horns were unaffected by the missed sessions unfolded Feb. 25 in Winslow where coach Jerry Daniels’ diamond nine scrimmaged the homestanding Bulldogs.
“I was really pleased with how the scrimmage went, especially as we have only been on the field for four practices because of the wind and rain,” Daniels said. “Overall, we looked pretty good.”
Because the contest was an Arizona Interscholastic Association-sanctioned scrimmage, no score was to be kept.
Unofficially, however, the Horns did outscore the Dogs by about eight runs.
Showing well against Winslow is a feather in Payson’s baseball cap mostly because Bulldog coach Art Griffith, a veteran of almost 40 years, fields year-in-and-year-out some of the finest 3A teams in the state.
Because the clash was a scrimmage, Daniels pitchers threw only one inning each.
The exception was senior Hunter Haynes who was the Horns mound ace last season.
“Hunter threw two innings,” Daniels said.
The others who took turns showing their hurling prowess were Sean Dougherty, Ryan Williams, Keaton Duran Jake Sleeper and Ridge Halenar.
Offensively, Edwin Estrada and Weston Gibson punched round trip tickets rocketing shots over the Vargas Field center field fence.
“We did pretty well, but (there is) still room for improvement,” Daniels said.
On the base paths, the Horns were aggressive and fast, successfully stealing five bases in six attempts.
As much potential as the team showed, the scrimmage did reveal some shortcomings that must be shored up before the season begins in earnest on March 5 in the Mohave Valley Tournament.
“We made some base-running and defensive mistakes that should not have happened,” Daniels said.
For the scrimmage, the Horns were without Ever Figueroa and Tyler Savage who are members of the basketball team that at the time was still playing in the state tournament.
Dakota Marshall also is on the basketball team but, “he told me that he was not going to play this year,” Daniels said.
The Longhorns return a solid nucleus of five players who led the team last season to a 16-13 record, 9-1 in the East and a share of the East Region title with the Show Low Cougars.
The group — which includes Gibson, Figueroa, Savage, Halenar and Haynes — also led the team into the state tournament where the Horns were eliminated in the opening round by a 1-0 extra inning heartbreaker to Chino Valley.
In 2008, Halenar, Savage and Haynes were All-East Region first team selections. Figueroa and Gibson were second team honorees. Daniels was the region’s Coach of the Year.
Halenar has been a fixture on the local baseball scene since he was in elementary school, leading the Payson Little Leaguers into the state tournament.
Although that he was passed over last year as the coaches’ choice for the East’s Player of the Year, an honor many thought he deserved, Halenar was chosen Sports Zone magazine’s POY after hitting .437, including eight doubles, three triples and a team-high six home runs.
The stocky right-handed catcher/pitcher also led the Horns in RBIs with 38 and struck out only five times in 29 games.
With another year of maturity and experience under his sliding pads, Halenar is expected to have a fine season this spring.
Savage, bound for a Midwestern college to play football, led the Longhorns in hitting in 2008 with a .437 average that included eight doubles and two triples. He also scored 24 times, drove in 27 runs and was the Horns’ leading base stealer with 14.
Haynes’ begins the season with a reputation as one of the finest pitchers in small-town Arizona. Much of the attention being shown him is due to his sterling performance in last spring’s one-run state tournament loss to Chino Valley.
The lanky right-hander hurled all nine innings giving up just seven hits and one walk. He also struck out five and allowed only one extra base hit.
Although Haynes finished last year with a misleading 5-5 record, he dominated opposing hitters as evidenced by his 1.856 ERA. He led the Horns in strikeouts with 56 and walked only eight of the 255 batters he faced.
Offensively, Haynes hit .295 with 14 RBIs and 16 runs scored.
Gibson, a sophomore, was a 14-year-old freshman varsity starter last year playing against opponents much older and more experienced than he.
Nonetheless, he hit .417 with 26 runs scored, 14 RBIs, a team-high 10 doubles, two triples and a home run.
Some are predicting he has the potential to round into one of the finest players to ever don a PHS baseball uniform.
Figueroa finished 2008 with a banner season in which he hit .400, knocked in 17 runs, played solid defense and stole two bases.
In addition to the Longhorns having the five returning all-region players in the lineup, Daniels has several newcomers up from last year’s junior varsity squad to lend much-needed depth.
The Horns are expected to play five games during the three days the team is in the Mohave Valley Tournament. Last spring the team finished 1-4 in the invitational.