A boys basketball clash today, Dec. 7, in Holbrook will be a huge challenge for the Payson Longhorns, mostly because the Roadrunners appear to be equal to, or possibly better than last season’s 23-8 team that advanced to the state tournament and reached the second round before being eliminated by eventual 3A champion Estrella Foothills.
The Runners return three starters from that team and, with two other letter-winners, have a strong starting five.
Their only weakness might be the bench, which is young and untested.
Holbrook has opened on a tear, edging a very good Snowflake team 58-57 and rolling over the Show Low Cougars 73-46.
Jalen Jackson, Kory Koerperich and Iiacian Johnson, who share the scoring, rebounding and leadership duties, lead the Roadrunners.
While Holbrook is not huge, 6-foot, 4-inch Ryan Baldonado and the 6-foot, 3-inch Jackson give them decent size for a 3A team.
The Horns travel to Holbrook fresh off an appearance in the Cake’s Car Company Shoot Out held Dec. 2 to Dec. 4 in Winslow.
Payson, which finished 2-2 in the tournament and in fourth place, opened with a 57-54 comeback win over Hopi. The Horns then edged Page 47-46 in overtime. On Saturday, Payson lost 57-40 by a tall and talented Blue Ridge team that went on to win the Shoot Out championship. In the battle for third place that afternoon, Payson gave Snowflake all the competition the Lobos could handle before falling 55-50.
At the conclusion of the fray, coaches voted Josh Oakley to the all-tournament team.
Against Hopi, Payson was down 12 points in the third quarter and by six with 1-1/2 minutes to play before the Horns roared back using what coach Bill Goodwin calls “energy and effort from our bench.”
Oakley led Payson in scoring with 14 and Guillermo Lopez contributed 10. Justin Moratti and Tanner Hintze corralled five rebounds each. For the game, the Horns were without the services of Cole Belcher and Cale Novack, who were both sidelined with maladies.
Also in the tournament, Payson lost 65-60 to a Snowflake team that featured former Longhorn three-sport stalwart Chase Walden, whose family moved last month to Lobo-land from Payson.
To be successful this evening against Holbrook, the Horns will most likely need the scoring of 6-foot, 3-inch sophomore Tanner Hintze, who coach Bill Goodwin says can play well offensively facing the basket or with his back to it. That is a real attribute a prep athlete needs to play the forward and center, or 4 and 5, positions.
One of Hintze’s finest games this season was turned in during a win over Globe in which he scored 17 points and corralled 10 rebounds, both team highs.
Also on the front line, the Horns have six-foot Justin Moratti, a senior co-captain along with Zack Blazer.
The Horns can also call on junior wing Josh Oakley and 6-foot, 2-inch Cole Belcher for scoring.
Belcher was sidelined early in the year with a sprained ankle and his status has been day-to-day. He was scheduled to be examined by a doctor yesterday, Monday, but at press time Goodwin doubted he would be cleared to play.
Off the bench, Goodwin can call on sophomore guard Guillermo Lopez, Sam Grassel and Russell Hintze for scoring, playmaking and defense.
Following the skirmish in Holbrook, the Horns will have almost a full week to prepare for an East region opener on Dec. 14 against Show Low in Wilson Dome.