Coach David Nikolaus’ Show Low Cougars come pawing and clawing into town today, March 16, giving the Payson Longhorn baseball team its first crack at East region play.
The Horns’ best hopes for a “W’” is for coach Jerry Daniels to have a little cat nip up his sleeve in the form of solid offense and defense to go along with good pitching.
Although the game is on the schedule as a single clash, it could turn into a double header if PHS diamond is dry and playable.
The second game, if it is played, would be a make-up clash for a Cougars vs. Horns encounter originally scheduled for March 9 but postponed due to inclement weather.
Payson enters the game with a 3-4 record that includes a pulsating 4-3 loss on March 11 to the homestanding Winslow Bulldogs.
The Cougars meanwhile are 1-2, but own an impressive 13-11 win March 6 over state No. 2 ranked Wickenburg, also the 2009 state tournament runner-up.
In the Horns’ one-run loss to the Bulldogs, Keaton Duran received the starting pitching nod from coach Jerry Daniels and turned in a commendable pitching performance worthy of a victory.
He went the entire seven innings on the hill, giving up five hits, striking out two and allowing just two earned runs.
It was three Longhorn errors, however, that allowed the Dogs to score two more runs, which eventually proved to be the difference in the game.
For the season, the hard luck Duran is 1-2, but has posted an exceptional 2.19 ERA hurling a team-high 16 innings.
Offensively vs. Winslow, Payson outhit the Dogs 8-5 but, once again the difference in miscues, 3-1, spelled the demise of Horn hopes.
The Longhorns jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, and seemed to be cruising to a “W” before the Dog barked for four runs in an ill-fated fourth inning.
Payson tacked on a single run in the top of the sixth, but was frustrated in efforts to score the tying run.
Junior shortstop Westin Gibson paced the Horns at the plate with two hits, one run scored and an RBI in four plate appearances. One of his base knocks was a double.
Edwin Estrada, Dakota Marshall and Cale Novack also had base hits. Estrada’s was a double.
Around the East, it’s too early to tag a championship favorite, but the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets (5-1) are off and running to what could be a fine year. Fueling the Jackets is the play of Nick Williams, Ty Webster and Derek Simmons. Of course, Snowflake (2-4) and Round Valley (2-4) can never be counted out in a title chase that is expected to go down to the wire.