The Longhorn baseball team’s five-year stretch of reaching the season-ending state tournament could be in danger.
The peril exists because the Horns are struggling to attain at least one of two state qualifying standards — a top-three finish among the six region teams or a minimum 16th place power points ranking.
With a 3-4 region record, the Horns sit in fourth place in the East, trailing Blue Ridge (6-0), Show Low (4-1) and Snowflake (5-3). With only three East games remaining, PHS will be hard-pressed to catch Snowflake.
However, the Horns could earn the elusive berth seed by finishing first, second or third in the East Region tournament set for April 27, 29 and May 1 at the site of the highest seed.
If Payson clings to its current fourth-place regular season standing, PHS would open the region tournament by hosting No. 6 Round Valley (1-6; 4-12).
In power points, the Horns are currently 24th among the 28 teams in 3A.
Which means they are eight slots out of earning a playoff spot.
However, coach Jerry Daniels harbors hope there is a slight chance the team could climb to at least 16th in power points and earn the final state seed.
“If we win our last four games we could get in,” he said.
The Horns remaining regular games:
• April 16 vs. Snowflake in Payson
• April 17 vs. Round Valley in Eagar (rescheduled game postponed from March 23)
• April 20 vs. Round Valley in Payson
• April 23 vs. Fountain Hills in Fountain Hills
Starting times for all games is 3:30 p.m., except for Snowflake, which will start about 6:30 p.m. or about one-half hour after a junior varsity game begins at 3:30 p.m.
The games are part of a baseball-softball doubleheader in which the Lady Longhorn varsity will also be playing a 6:30 p.m. game on the girls field against Snowflake. It too will be preceded by a jayvee contest.
The games are played each year as part of the softball team’s annual benefit deep-pit barbecue beef dinner. It will be served up from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. near the softball field concession stand.
The meal, which includes melt-in-your-mouth tender beef and cowboy beans, all prepared cowboy style by Albert Hunt, is $5 per plate. All proceeds benefit the softball program.
Members of the Friends And Neighbors (FAN) Club will be on hand to assist with the benefit, which has become one of the highlights of the spring sports and recreation scene.
The Longhorns did themselves a power points favor while breaking a five-game losing streak with a 5-1 victory April 13 over the visiting St. Johns Redskins.
Much of the credit for the hard-earned win goes to senior pitcher Dakota Marshall who hurled the entire seven innings, allowing four hits and not giving up an earned run.
Marshall, showing good control throughout the game, walked just two and struck out four.
The Horns have struggled all season long with an error-prone defense, and while the win over the Redskins was an improvement defensively, the team was not rock solid, committing three miscues which led to St. Johns’ single run.
With Marshall turning in probably the finest hurling performance of his career, Chance Randall was leading the offensive charge with a 3-for-3 effort at the plate that included two runs scored and one RBI.
Sean Dougherty drove in the other two runs with a single in the Longhorns’ three-run, fifth inning uprising.
Those runs broke upon a tight game in which Payson was clinging to a precarious 2-1 lead.
The Longhorns cruise into the crucial season-ending stretch armed with some of the East’s finest players including Westin Gibson, Ever Figueroa, Dougherty and Marshall.
Gibson, a junior infielder, is hitting at a sizzling .471 clip. Figueroa sports a .468 average, Dougherty has a .389 mean and Marshall is hitting .349 with a team-leading three home runs.
Gibson has four triples and seven doubles, both team highs.
As important as hitting is, it’s usually pitching that decides the tough games, especially in tournaments.
The Horns don’t have a superstar hurler on the roster, but Marshall has been the team leader, compiling a 3.09 ERA in 34 innings, a team high.
Keaton Duran (4.20) has been effective, as has Dougherty (.594).
Defense, or lack of it, will also play a role in Longhorn fortunes. This season, the team has committed 69 miscues, a mark the team will have to improve upon if Payson is to keep their state playoff streak alive.