“Play ’em one game at a time,” is a tried and true coaching adage that most obey as if it was carved in stone, housed in an ark and passed on from down high.
In athletic parlance, it means never look ahead, take one game and one play at a time.
The edict has worked well — for evidence look at how Bill Belichick has applied it to the three-time world champion New England Patriots.
But the old proverb is for coaching and this is a sports story, so let’s jump ahead in the 3A state baseball tournament bracket.
The Longhorns, who will enter the state tournament as a No. 7 seed and play No. 10 Chinle in the first round, appear to have an excellent chance to reach the final four.
And once there, it’s Katie-bar-the-door as anything can happen when only four teams are left remaining in a single elimination tournament.
However, there is a glitch in the seedings that hadn’t been resolved by press time.
Rumors are rampant on 3A school campuses that No. 8 seeded Window Rock is going to pull out of the tournament due to the possibility of swine flu spreading.
If that should happen, the seedings would be adjusted and Payson would probably not play Chinle, but rather Safford or possibly Coolidge.
AIA Director of Media Marketing Brian Bolithlo said yesterday, May 4, he had not been told whether or not Window Rock would withdraw.
Window Rock Athletic Director Paul Reynolds said the school’s withdrawal would be a school board decision made later this week.
Which left PHS coach Jerry Daniels scrambling trying to determine just which team the Horns would play if WR drops out.
Could win two
If the first two rounds of the tournament go as now seeded and Payson can win both games, the Horns will play in the semifinals at 3 p.m., Friday, May 15, probably against No. 3 Globe.
A win there would send the team into the state championship, possibly against No. 1 Winslow. That game is set for 7 p.m., Saturday May 16 at Surprise Baseball Stadium.
While Daniels is hesitant to predict the Longhorns will reach the final four and ultimately make a run at the state crown, he quietly admits state tournament seeding seems to give Payson at least a shot at the school’s second baseball championship.
“There’s a chance,” he said.
Cats up next
The reason for much of the optimism in the Longhorn camp is that the Horns begin pursuit of a state title, at 4 p.m., Friday, May 8 on Field No. 6 at Surprise Baseball Complex, against a Chinle team that was a less than impressive 5-5 (14-9 overall) and fourth in the final standings of the baseball-challenged North Region.
A real head-scratcher when it comes to a state qualifying team is that the Wildcats, on April 27, lost 35-0 to Winslow.
It’s not often a prep team gets shellacked like that and makes it to the state tournament.
“I’m not going to worry too much about (Chinle),” Daniels said.
A Payson win over the Cats would catapult the team into a second round game, at 6 p.m. the following day on field No. 3 at SBC, against the winner of the Chino Valley vs. Snowflake tournament opener.
The Horns whipped Chino Valley 5-4 on April 18 and bested Snowflake by scores of 13-6 (April 14) and 4-1 (May 1).
Chino Valley was rolling along unbeaten at 18-0 before losing back-to-back games late last month against Payson and Winslow.
The Cougars finished the season 25-2.
PHS takes bronze
The Horns take to state an East Region third-place finish with a 6-4 record (19-9) overall.
The real stumbling blocks for the Horns in East play were two losses, 12-2 and 8-7, to second place Show Low (7-2).
The Horns split with East champion Blue Ridge (9-1 region; 21-6 overall) winning 5-2 at home and losing 6-3 in Lakeside.
With three teams as evenly matched as the Cougars, Yellow Jackets and Horns were, the East was as competitive as it’s been in years.
The fourth East state qualifier, Snowflake advances with a 4-6 East mark (12-13 overall) and as a No. 15 seed.
Snowflake and Payson wrapped up the regular season May 1 on Longhorn diamond in a rare evening game.
Hunter Haynes (6-2, 2.29 ERA) got the starting nod and responded with his usual assortment of fastballs and off-speed pitches that kept the Lobo offense at bay.
Haynes gave up five hits, one earned run, struck out nine and did not allow a walk.
Snowflake’s Kyle Larson was the only player who had much success against Haynes hitting a double and a single in three trips to the plate.
In Payson’s eight-hit attack, which also included 10 strikeouts, Ridge Halenar and Lucas Barr both had two hits.
Halenar’s performance at the plate keeps him the East Region’s leading hitter with a .644 average that includes four home runs, four triples and 15 doubles.