Justin Moratti prepares to go up for a shot under the basket, before being blocked and fouled by two Round Valley Elk players.
Longhorn playoff hopes took a hit Jan. 14 in Wilson Dome with a 58-44 loss to the Round Valley Elks.
With the defeat, Payson falls to 9-11 overall and 1-5 in the East Region.
If the Horns are to achieve their goal of reaching the postseason playoffs with an advantageous top-four seed, the team will need to rebound with wins over Alchesay (Jan. 20), Blue Ridge (Jan. 22) and Snowflake (Jan. 29).
In the loss to Round Valley, the Horns accomplished something they haven’t done as of late — start strong.
In most of the mid season losses, Payson has fallen behind early and was forced to rally from behind in the second half.
But against RV, the Horns jumped out to an early 16-11 lead.
“We played a great opening quarter, something that we haven’t done,” coach Jared Swanson said. “But we were out-muscled the final three quarters.”
RV outscored the Horns 13-4 in the second quarter and 19-6 in the third, before Payson recovered to outscore the Elks 18-15 in the final stanza.
“We fought hard in the final quarter,” Swanson said. “We were led by seven points and three fourth quarter rebounds from freshman Chase Walden.” Walden finished the game with eight points and 10 rebounds.
Senior point guard Ever Figueroa led the team offensively with 14 points while corralling four rebounds and dishing out four assists.
In the loss, the Horns didn’t have one of their better nights at the line, hitting just eight for 14 attempts (57 percent). RV was 22 for 30 (73 percent).
While the Horns controlled the boards, hauling in five more rebounds than the Elks, Payson continued disturbing trends as of late with 28 turnovers. By comparison, RV had just 12.
Although the loss was a bit disheartening, especially considering the number of injuries Longhorn players have suffered recently, Swanson was upbeat.
“I am happy with our overall effort and we will move forward to improve each game and each day of practice,” he said.
The injuries to starters have forced Swanson to play many of his younger athletes including Tanner Hintze, Cale Novak and Walden.
“They are gaining some valuable varsity court time and I’m proud of how hard they are playing,” he said.
In Lady Longhorn action on Thursday against Round Valley, Payson fell 49-37 despite nine points from Ciara Romance and Kelsey Waugh. Jordan Klabbatz had seven points and six rebounds.
Tonight the teams face Fountain Hills, the boys at home, the girls on the road. Home games are at 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.