A 46-41 win over the Round Valley Elks highlighted the Payson boys basketball team’s grueling five-day run in which the Longhorns played four crucial East Region games.
Even more impressive is that the win, which was recorded Jan. 13, came on the road where region Ws can be tough to come by.
The break-neck week opened Jan. 10 with a 66-58 win over Show Low and continued the following evening with a disappointing 62-42 loss to the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.
After defeating homestanding Round Valley on Jan. 13, the Horns returned to their home court in Wilson Dome only to drop a 69-63 squeaker to Snowflake.
While the break-even record during the four-game stretch might be considered a “sister-kisser” to some, the effort was good enough to keep the Longhorns in the running for a state playoff berth.
With a 3-4 region record the Horns are fourth and might not be able to muster the wins it will take to move up to third to receive an automatic bid into the postseason.
The Horns, however, are in good shape to advance to state through the power points route.
Currently Payson is ranked 12th among the 28 3A conference schools. The top 16 earn berths into the state tournament when it begins Feb. 14.
In the win over Round Valley, which fans and officials are lauding for the fine show of sportsmanship from both coaches and players, sophomore Tanner Hintze was a one-man wrecking crew finishing with a game-high 25 points and 11 rebounds.
The win was a revenge of sorts for a heartbreaking 50-49 loss to the Elks on Jan. 4 in Wilson Dome.
In addition to Hintze’s Herculean effort, the Horns received a solid defensive showing from Cale Novak, who coach Bill Goodwin praised for “continuing to step up and lead us with the effort and toughness we need to compete.”
Cole Belcher came off the bench to record eight rebounds, three steals, three assists and one blocked shot.
Goodwin called the showing “a great floor game.”
Offensively, Cameron Romance tallied eight points, Guillermo Lopez had seven and Justin Moratti four.
Other keys to the win included tough defensive play from Longhorn guards who were able to thwart the Elks’ well-documented dribble drive penetration.
“They (the guards) also rebounded well with Zack Blazer and Cameron getting four and Guillermo three,” said the coach.
Although the Horns did not record a particularly high shooting percentage, the coach said lights-out shooting is not needed, “when you play great team defense and rebound because that gives you a chance to win and we did.”
He also called the triumph “a great team effort on the road.”
The Horns return to action today, Jan. 18, against the 3A West Region Fountain Hills Falcons in Fountain Hills. The two teams first met on Dec. 17 in Wilson Dome where the Horns absorbed a 62-36 drubbing.
Following today’s showdown vs. FH, Payson has only three region games remaining — Alchesay, Jan. 19; Blue Ridge, Jan. 21; Snowflake, Jan. 28.
The Horns also take on Class 2A St. Johns on Jan. 25 and Jan. 29, but the results of those games do not count in the final standings. The scores will, however, affect power points.
The regional tournament begins Feb. 8 at the home site of the highest seed.