Longhorn first baseman Devin England prepares to scoop up a ground ball during a recent practice session. England and his teammates will begin 3A East action today, March 17, against the Show Low Cougars. Game time is 3:30 p.m. on PHS field.
The Longhorn baseball team improved its record to 6-3, winning three of four games against Miami and San Carlos.
The Horns opened the set, which was played March 12 and 13 in Miami, with a 15-0 win over San Carlos, and followed it up with a 16-1 thumping of the homestanding Vandals.
On the second day, PHS lost 12-7 to San Carlos, but rebounded to take a second win over the Vandals, this time by a 13-2 margin.
In the first win over Miami, Payson senior hurler Hunter Haynes — the Horns’ mound ace last season — picked up the win, hurling five full innings while allowing just two hits, striking out seven and walking one.
The one run he gave up was the first earned run scored against him this season.
The masterful performance improved Haynes to 2-0 on the year. His miniscule .64 ERA is one of the finest in the state, as is the .108 average he is allowing opposing batters.
If Haynes can continue his stellar fireballing the remainder of the season, PHS could battle for region and state honors.
Another Longhorn who used the four-game series to fatten his averages was sophomore Westin Gibson.
In the second win over Miami, he was 4-for-4 at the plate, with two triples, a home run and a game-high five RBIs.
With that showing, Gibson is now hitting .500 with four home runs, three triples, a double and a whopping 20 RBIs.
Most amazing is that in nine games he has compiled numbers that would equal an entire season for some prep players.
Senior catcher/pitcher Ridge Halenar also enjoyed a field day in the second win over Miami, pounding out three singles in four trips to the plate with two RBIs and one run scored.
Halenar now leads the team in hitting with a .545 average for those who have played in all nine games. His average includes three doubles, a triple and seven RBIs. Also swinging a big stick for the Longhorns is Ryan Williams, who is hitting .583 in seven games. In six games, Jake Sleeper is hitting .571.
As a team, the Horns have compiled a remarkable .405 average.
However, if there is a statistic coach Jerry Daniels wants to improve upon, it is strikeouts. PHS batters have gone down on whiffs 38 times in 210 appearances.
The mark, if it continues, could haunt them once all-important East region play tips off.
In addition to the Longhorns riding the red-hot pitching of Haynes, the team features good pitching depth with Keaton Duran, Sean Daugherty and Dakota Marshall ready to take the mound when called upon.
In all, eight of the Horns on the team roster have seen pitching duty this season.
On the base paths, Tyler Savage and Gibson have shown good speed and instincts, both stealing four bases in four attempts. Edwin Estrada is 3-for-3. As a team, the Horns have stolen 21 bases in 22 attempts.
Defensively, Payson has played reasonably well, committing 21 errors in 171 chances.
The team has turned three double plays and has committed just one passed ball. Devin England is fielding .962, Ever Figueroa .900 and Gibson .885.
While the first nine games of the season have given the Longhorns an opportunity to fine tune their skills, the action turns critical today, March 17, when East region rival Show Low visits PHS field for a 3:30 p.m. game.
Coach Dave Nikolaus’ Cougars and the Horns tied for the East championship last season and are once again favorites to win the title and the resulting berth into the state tournament.