Turn out the lights, the party’s over.
It ended May 9 at Surprise Baseball Complex where the Chino Valley Cougars rallied for seven runs in the fifth and sixth innings to defeat the Payson Longhorns 11-6.
The loss, which occurred in the second round of the Arizona State 3A baseball tournament, ended the season for the Horns, who are now relegated to watching the final four from the bleachers.
Those semifinals, which will pit No. 9 Wickenburg against No. 4 Blue Ridge and No. 3 Globe against No. 2 Chino Valley, will be played May 15 at Surprise Baseball Complex.
Although the Horns were eliminated by Chino, Payson opened the tournament on a roll, beating Chinle 15-6 on May 8, the first day of the playoffs.
Entering the game against Chino Valley, the Horns appeared to have a legitimate chance to reach the final four because coach Jerry Daniels had not used his ace pitcher, Hunter Haynes, in the opening game, preferring instead to go with Sean Dougherty.
But Haynes was not his usual dominating self, lasting five innings and giving up a whopping 13 hits. Of the 11 runs scored against him, eight were earned.
Particularly telling was his 4 strikeouts — Haynes is normally a master at setting down opposing batters on strikes.
Keaton Duran relieved and hurled the final inning, giving up one hit.
With the Horns leading Chino 6-4 and hopes high in the PHS dugout that Payson could hang on the for the upset win, Chino Valley salted the game away by scoring four runs in the fifth frame and tacking on three more in the sixth.
The Horns never recovered from those two outbursts that were low lighted by three PHS errors, two of which led directly directly to CV runs.
Offensively, sophomore shortstop Weston Gibson pounded the ball at will, with three hits in four plate appearances. He also scored three runs and had an RBI.
Ever Figueroa and Edwin Estrada were both 2-for-4. Dakota Marshall swatted a two-run double.
A day earlier against Chinle, while playing in the late afternoon 105-degree searing desert heat, the Horns fell behind 3-0 in the bottom of the first and appeared to have taken the reservation team a bit too lightly.
Never to worry, though, as the Horns rallied for eight runs in the bottom of the second. The big hit of the inning was Marshall’s 360-foot home run over the left centerfield fence.
Marshall had a field day at the Wildcat’s expense, with two hits, five RBIs and one run scored to go with the round-trip ticket.
In one of the odder moments in high school baseball, the Chinle coach chose — the next inning — to intentionally walk Tyler Savage and pitch to Marshall with runners on base.
That move had everyone in the PHS dugout scratching their collective noggins in disbelief.
Savage solved the reason for the strange strategy when he returned at the end of the inning to the dugout.
“They thought I was Dakota, that’s why they walked me,” he told coaches and teammates.
That spawned more than a few chuckles from the players.
With the Horns leading 8-3 in the bottom of the second, Chinle began climbing back into contention, scoring one run in the third and two in the fifth to pull within 8-6.
“They sure aren’t quitting,” assistant coach Bruce Haught said.
But in the bottom of the fifth, Payson scored four times to remove any suspense about which team would be the eventual winner.
In the next inning, the Horns later tacked on three insurance runs for good measure.
During the Horns’ offensive on-slaught, senior catcher Ridge Halenar rocked Wildcat pitching for three hits, six RBIs and two runs scored.
Gibson, batting leadoff, also had three hits, including a double and a home run.
Although Colin Nez, Chinle’s right-handed pitcher, entered the game sporting a lofty 1.96 ERA with 78 strikeouts and a North region-high seven wins, he was no match for the well-armed PHS hitters.
Payson also shined on the base paths, with 10 steals in 10 attempts. Late in the game, the Chinle catcher gave in, refusing to throw down to second base on Longhorn steal attempts.
Battery mates shine
Possibly lost in the Horns’ performance in the state tournament was the gutsy leadership of Halenar, who battled the Valley heat while holding down probably the most demanding position on the team — catcher.
Although Halenar was bothered by cramps while playing in the Valley heat during the last football season, he showed no ill effects in Surprise, gulping down sports drinks and covering his head with wet towels between innings.
Also deserving plenty of individual plaudits was Dougherty, who went the distance on the hill, scattering 10 hits and giving up two runs.
Early in the game, Dougherty wasn’t getting the strike calls from the home plate umpire, which seemed to throw him off his game.
Eventually, however, the PHS hurler settled down to pitch a hard hat and lunch pail type effort.
With the season at an end, the team will gather one final time for the traditional awards ceremony.
Daniels said the date and place for it would be announced early next week.
Also at the conclusion of the state tournament on May 16, the results of the coaches’ All-East voting will be announced.