The aim of the Longhorn baseball team is to jump aboard the 3A East winning express when the opportunity steams through Payson at 3:30 p.m. today, March 31.
To flag that speeding locomotive down, PHS needs a win over the visiting Round Valley Elks, which would be the team’s first East “W” of the season.
The Horns have a 10-4 overall record, second best in the East, but lost their only East outing 12-2 to Show Low on March 17.
The visiting Elks might be just the elixir the diamond doctor has ordered to cure the Horns’ East ills.
RV is struggling with a 4-5 record and is 0-1 in the East.
Scouting reports indicate the bugle boys have a decent front line pitcher in junior Taylor Pacheco and a good all-around player in T.J. Peters.
But it doesn’t appear the RV corral is loaded with an overabundance of thoroughbreds.
So, the Horns will counter RV with a solid pitching staff that includes Hunter Haynes and an explosive hitting attack fueled by Ridge Halenar.
Coach Jerry Daniels said on Monday afternoon that he would start Haynes, his ace the past two seasons, against Round Valley.
The right-handed senior struggled in the loss to Show Low prompting Show Low coach David Nikolaus to say, “I don’t think Haynes was at his best, but sometimes that’s the way it goes.”
Other than that loss, Haynes has been rock solid all season long.
Currently, he’s second in the East in wins with three, leads the region in strikeouts with 29 and his 2.74 ERA is fourth best in the East.
If Haynes falters on the mound, Keaton Duran could be called upon for relief help.
Although he’s only a sophomore Duran has pitched well posting an East-high four wins, a 1.47 ERA and 18 strikeouts.
While Haynes leads the hurling crew and Duran is having a banner sophomore season, Halenar is undoubtedly the team leader and top gun in the batter’s box.
His .600 batting average is third best in the region behind Robby Martindell (.688, Snowflake) and Tyler Adams (.632, Show Low).
In 40 at-bats, he has nine doubles and one triple and an on-base percentage (.660) that ranks third in the East, also behind Martindell and Adams.
While Halenar has been the big stick in the Horn offense, he’s received plenty of support from teammates Westin Gibson, Ryan Williams and Haynes.
Gibson has a .462 batting average that includes six home runs, a team-high 26 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .962, second in the East.
Williams, a senior left fielder, is hitting .481, third best among the Longhorns.
Haynes is hitting .515 with three doubles.
On the base paths, Gibson is leading the Horn steal machine with eight thefts.
That mark is second in the region behind a Blue Ridge player, Dustin Simmons, Gibson and his teammates know all too well from the past football season.
Simmons was a starting quarterback and defensive back for the Yellow Jackets in their two narrow losses to the Horns, one of which occurred in the state championship finale.
In baseball, Simmons has 11 steals to lead the East.
On a roll
After losing to Show Low, the Horns have been on a three-game winning streak that includes a 12-0 pasting of San Tan Foothills and a doubleheader sweep of Holbrook by scores of 17-3 and 10-2.
Following the twin killing of the homestanding Roadrunners, coach Jerry Daniels praised the team’s efforts saying, “I’m really proud of the way they played.
“They played as a team and the results showed that.”
In the 17-3 triumph, Duran got the start and hurled all six innings picking up the victory. He faced 27 batters, allowed four hits and two earned runs while striking out three and walking three.
Gage Conway fueled the Horns at the plate with three hits in four trips that also featured four RBIs and two runs scored. One of his hits was a home run.
Gibson had two doubles in three appearances.
In all, the Horns pounded out a whopping 16 base hits, their best showing of the campaign.
In the 10-2 victory, Daniels divided up the pitching chores sending Dakota Marshall, Sean Dougherty and Haynes to the hill.
Marshall was credited with the win after hurling three innings and giving up one earned run. He also struck out two and walked one.
Dougherty and Haynes pitched two innings each in relief.
Ever Figueroa and Devin England led the hit parade with three singles each. England also had three RBIs and Figueroa knocked in one.
Gibson and Halenar pounded out doubles.