The Longhorn boys basketball team fell to 1-1 in the East title chase after being completely throttled 61-27 by the Round Valley Elks.
RV’s win was its first region victory of the season after earlier losing 64-57 to Show Low and 71-55 to Blue Ridge.
In the Payson vs. Round Valley clash, which was played Jan. 8 in Eagar-Springerville, the bugle boys jumped on Payson 15-7 in the early going and expanded it to 33-17 at halftime.
In the second half, the Horns scored only 10 points as the Elks bulled their way to the East Region triumph.
The loss didn’t sit well with coach Jared Swanson, “Our guys just were not ready to play tonight ... we were out-worked, out-played, out-hustled, and it was not a fun game to be a part of.”
Offensively, Tanner Hintze led Payson with just six points.
Against the Roadrunners
On Jan. 2, the Horns hosted Holbrook in a make-up game that was originally scheduled for Dec. 7, but was postponed due to a snowstorm that rendered travel in Rim Country too hazardous for school buses.
The game, which Payson lost 56-50, gave Swanson a golden opportunity to evaluate his individual players’ on-the-court psyche.
His conclusion was, “Our guys need to work on doing the little things throughout the game in order to give us a chance to win at the end.
“It seems we are having a tough time understanding how important all the little things are in the scheme of an entire game.” The coach explained what he meant by “little things” was cashing in on the mistakes that Holbrook made, being in the right place at the right time and coming up with defensive stops when opportunities presented themselves.
While some team members struggled mastering the nuances of the game, others excelled.
“Justin Moratti played a great game for us at both ends of the floor,” Swanson said.
The junior forward’s efforts, which included scoring eight points, has Swanson expecting bigger and better things.
“We will be looking for him to continue his aggressive play in the coming weeks.”
Those lofty expectations are because the Horns need all the firepower and defense they can muster in crucial 3A East games against Blue Ridge on Jan. 12 and two days later against Round Valley.
Both clashes are in Wilson Dome.
In the loss to the Roadrunners, the Payson defense couldn’t contain Holbrook’s big three of Kory Koerporich, Jalen Jackson and Tyler Stingley.
The trio scored 43 of the team’s 56 points with Koerporich taking game scoring honors with 18 points.
In Holbrook’s onslaught, Runner gunslingers made good on seven three-pointers.
“That was the difference in the game,” Swanson said.
For Payson, senior point guard Ever Figueroa tallied 17 points, seven of which came in a fourth quarter when the Horns were trying to rally for a win.
“He kept us in the game, but we just ran out of time,” Swanson said.
Cody Waterman finished with 14 points, 12 in the first half that ended with Holbrook leading 35-28.
“It was a back and forth game and one that I am very disappointed that we didn’t win,” Swanson said.
At the free-throw line, Payson was seven for 10 and Holbrook finished eight for 12.
Facing the Jackets
Although Payson has beaten Blue Ridge this season, 46-44, Dec. 5 during the Cake Chevrolet Shootout in Winslow, the Jackets (13-2 overall, 2-0 in the East) will bring to Payson on Tuesday a formidable team on a seven-game winning streak.
Evidence that BR is indeed an East title threat surfaced only last week when the Jackets won the White Mountain Holiday Classic beating Winslow 83-77 in the championship game.
Currently, Blue Ridge is fifth ranked in the state behind No. 1 Estrella Foothills, No. 2 Chinle, No. 3 Holbrook and No. 4 Fountain Hills.
Kenny Kellywood leads the Blue Ridge attack with in 16 ppg scoring average that includes 57 percent shooting from two-point range.
He’s also the Jackets’ leading rebounder with 77 retrieves and has blocked a team-high 13 shots.
A key to the Horns containing his antics might be the availability of center-forward Dakota Marshall who has been sidelined for the past two weeks with a hairline fracture in his ankle.
Marshall, Payson’s most lethal inside threat, will be examined early next week and his availability determined.
“We are hoping it will be close to fully healed by Blue Ridge,” Swanson said.
The Blue Ridge roster also features a couple of other threats to go along with Kellywood.
They include Nick Johnson and Robert Kinney.
Johnson is scoring at an 11.4 ppg clip and Kinney averages 10.8 ppg.