The Longhorn baseball express is steaming toward all-important East region play with a 3-3 record and focused on derailing arch-rival Show Low Cougars.
Payson locks horns with the felines March 16 on PHS diamond. The two were originally set to clash March 9, but inclement weather forced postponement of the game.
Although a firm makeup date has not been agreed upon, the possibility exists that it could be replayed March 16 as a double header vs. the Horns.
“I don’t know if we can do that, it depends on the condition of our field and if we get any more rain or snow,” coach Jerry Daniels said. “I have been told (Show Low) is willing to give up a home game to play that doubleheader.”
For the upcoming clash, whether it is a single game or twin bill, Show Low will be coming off an appearance in the Shamrock Classic, a tournament in which coach David Nikolaus’ charges play four games in two days.
Payson should be well rested, having played only Winslow (March 11) since returning home March 6 from the rugged Thunderbird Classic near Laughlin, Nev.
There, Payson’s finest showings were wins over host Mohave, 3-0; Yuma, 5-4; and California Palo Verde, 3-1.
The Horns lost to Kingman, 2-1 and River Valley, 10-7.
For Payson in the upcoming clash against the Cougars, Ever Figueroa, Juan MacHado and Westin Gibson will lead offensively.
Figueroa is pacing the Horns at the plate with a .438 batting average with four runs scored and two RBIs.
MacHado, a centerfielder who was on junior varsity last season, is hitting .357 with three RBIs, two runs scored and two doubles.
“He’s my leadoff, and he’s hitting the ball pretty well,” said Daniels.
MacHado is also a threat on the base paths, having stolen three bases in three attempts.
Gibson is struggling a bit at the plate, but will carry a .308 average into the Show Low game.
Last season, Gibson, then a sophomore shortstop, hit .504 with 11 doubles, six triples and 10 home runs. His mark for three-baggers and home runs were team-highs.
He also knocked in 46 runs, which was second among the Horns only to Ridge Halenar. As the new season wears on, most onlookers anticipate Gibson — with a bit more patience at the plate — will return to last year’s form.
As for pitching, Keaton Duran (1-1) has shouldered much of the early season load, hurling nine innings while giving up three earned runs, 10 hits and posting a 2.33 ERA. Senior Dakota Marshall has thrown just five innings, but has not allowed a run, while giving up three hits.
Other pitchers Daniels can call upon include Jake Sleeper, Zack Blazer, Cale Novack and Figueroa.