While most Payson High School students are kicking back and enjoying the district’s spring holiday break, maybe sunning on a Rocky Point beach, the Longhorn baseball team is in Miami today, March 13, battling in nonregion games against San Carlos and host Miami.
The players also gave up part of their spring recess March 5 to 7 when they traveled to Bullhead City for the Thunderbird Classic.
During the fray, the Horns whipped Estrella Foothills, 8-4, Mohave, 4-0, and Kingman, 4-0, but lost to Yuma, 6-3, and Chino Valley, 4-3.
The Miami skirmishes will provide PHS players the opportunity to improve on the statistics they compiled during the first five games of the year.
Currently, senior catcher Ridge Halenar is leading the team in hitting with a .667 average, that is also the third-best mark in the East Region. In 13 at-bats, Halenar has four RBIs, three doubles and a triple.
His slugging mark of 1.083 is third best in the East behind Robby Martindell (l.556) of Snowflake and Blue Ridge’s Dustin Simmons (1.429).
In the Longhorns’ win over Estrella Foothills, Halenar was a perfect 2-for-2 with one RBI and a double.
Also in that win, Dakota Marshall and Gage Conway had two RBIs each.
Most of the Horns who have played in all five games are struggling at the plate with averages less than the magical .300 mark.
Tyler Savage, just rounding into baseball form after starting for the Horn football and basketball teams, is hitting an unremarkable .273, but does lead the Horns in RBIs with five.
Last season, Savage was an All-East first team selection and is expected to contend again this year for those honors.
In the Thunderbird Classic, Devin England provided much of the power in the PHS attack with three doubles in four games.
As for early season pitching, coach Jerry Daniels is spreading chores giving mound time to Keaton Duran, Ryan Williams, Hunter Haynes, Sean Dougherty, Halenar and Savage.
Haynes, last season’s pitching ace, has hurled six innings, faced 21 batters, struck out two and given up just two hits.
Known for his pinpoint control, Haynes walked only eight of the 255 batters he faced last season.
Duran and Dougherty threw five innings each in Bullhead City.
Duran faced 19 batters, allowed three hits and struck out a team-high six, while Dougherty pitched to 23 hitters, allowed six base knocks and set down three on strikes.
Duran’s strike out mark ties for the East Region lead with Blue Ridge’s Troy Webster and Shawn Walker of Snowflake.
Following the Longhorns’ return to Payson from Miami, the team travels March 16 to Camp Verde for a non-conference game against the Cowboys.
All-important East action tips off at 3:30 p.m. March 17 on PHS field against coach David Nikolaus’ Show Low Cougars.
Veteran baseball fans know PHS vs. SLHS clashes are almost always barnburners with the results hinging on stingy pitching, steady defense and a few good, or maybe lucky, breaks.
Boosters only have to look to last season to remember how competitive Horns vs. Cats battles can be.
During the regular season both teams compiled 9-1 records — splitting their home and away games — and tied for the East Region championship.
The two rivals are again projected to contend for the region title with Blue Ridge and Snowflake possibly sneaking into contention.