The opportunity to take a big step toward the East championship is at stake today, March 30, when the Longhorn baseball team (7-7 overall, 4-1 in the region) plays host to the Blue Ridge Yellowjackets (10-2; 2-0).
Both teams enter the crucial clash armed with some of the most accomplished players in the region.
For Blue Ridge, Ty Webster has been on fire all season long with his .522 batting average, 21 RBIs, .783 slugging percentage, nine stolen bases and four pitching wins that include 43 strike outs.
His marks for RBIs, slugging, stolen bases, wins and strikeouts are all region highs.
Also for BR, Nick Johnson leads the East in home runs (3) and ERA (1.43).
Payson standouts include Westin Gibson, Dakota Marshall and Jake Sleeper.
Gibson is hitting .476, slugging .714, has 14 RBIs and six stolen bases. All rank among the top five in the East.
Marshall is also top-five ranked in RBIs (18) and pitching wins (2).
Sleeper has 21 strikeouts this season, which is second in the region to Webster.
Payson enters today’s fray fresh off a disheartening 10-7 loss to the Snowflake Lobos. The defeat was tough to absorb partly because the Horns led 4-0 early in the game played March 27 in Snowflake.
One day earlier in Whiteriver, the Horns swept a doubleheader from the lowly Alchesay Falcons by landslide margins of 15-3 and 40-1.
In the loss to Snowflake, Payson’s demise can be attributed to a season long nemesis — errors.
By committing four miscues, the Horns allowed four unearned runs, which turned out to be more than the Lobos winning margin.
Errors, including hit batsmen, have plagued PHS all season long, especially in losses to St. Johns, 9-5, and Chino Valley, 10-9.
If the Horns correct their defensive lapses soon, the team might be on the outside of postseason play looking in.
Against Snowflake, Marshall got the starting call from coach Jerry Daniels and went the distance giving up 13 hits while striking out three and walking three. He was saddled with the loss giving up six earned runs.
At the plate, Marshall was the only PHS player to have more than one hit, punching two singles.
Chance Randall, Cale Novak and Ever Figueroa all doubled.
In the opening win over Alchesay, Sleeper hurled four innings giving up three hits and striking out three
Figueroa relieved, hurling one inning and allowing a single. Sleeper was credited with the win.
Offensively, Sleeper and Marshall had three hits each.
Sean Dougherty, Gibson and Figueroa had two hits apiece.
In the 39-run blowout that was shortened to four innings on the 10-run rule, Cale Novack started and went the distance allowing three hits, striking out three and walking one.
The game represented a chance for Longhorn hitters to fatten their batting average against makeshift Falcon pitching.
Gibson took full advantage of the opportunity with six hits, six runs scored and six RBIs in seven plate appearances. His hits included a double and triple.