It’s the beginning of the end for members of the Longhorn boys basketball team.
Only three games remain in the regular season and then it’s onto postseason play in regional and state tournaments.
The final week tips off today, Jan. 25, in St. Johns and continues Jan. 28 in Snowflake before wrapping up with a rematch Jan. 29 vs. St. Johns in Wilson Dome.
Most importantly for the Horns in those final games is to muster as many wins as possible to boost the team’s power point total in hopes of earning a state tournament berth.
Currently Payson has 48.9388 points and is ranked 13th among the 28 3A conference schools.
If the Horns cannot earn a state seed with a top-three finish in the East regional tournament, the team can advance on power points. But to accomplish that, the Horns must remain ranked at least among the top 16 3A teams.
Show Low is currently 14th (48.0515), Coolidge is 15th (47.4869) and Chinle is 16th (46.2424).
It’s in the Horns’ state interest, they don’t fall below any of those three teams.
In the East Region standings, the Longhorns are 3-5 and sitting fourth behind Blue Ridge, Round Valley and Snowflake.
It’s obvious from recent results, the team has struggled mostly because of the loss of three players — Cale Novack, Zack Blazer and Josh Oakley.
In a 56-41 loss at Alchesay on Jan. 19, Novack was sidelined by illness, Blazer sat out due to an ankle injury and Oakley missed the game after incurring injuries in a sledding accident.
“We were shorthanded,” said coach Bill Goodwin.
Without the trio, the Longhorns were slow out of the gate falling behind 19-7 in the first quarter.
By halftime, however, the Horns had pulled to with 26-20.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Horns trailed only 37-34 and hopes for a come-from-behind win were high. However, a flurry of Falcon three-pointers ended Horn plans for a game-winning rally.
Individually, Guillermo Lopez, Russ Hintze and Tanner Hintze each scored 11 points. Cameron Romance had five points and Justin Moratti four.
Tanner Hintze used his 6-foot-3-inch frame to dominate on the boards corralling 12 rebounds. Romance hauled in five missed shots and Sam Grassel finished with three.
On Jan. 18 in Wilson Dome, the Horns’ power point hopes took another hit with a 66-41 loss to a Fountain Hills team many argue is the state championship favorite partly due to the presence of a tall front line that includes a pair of 6-foot-8-inch battlers. In Payson’s loss, Tanner Hintze tallied eight points, had seven rebounds and dished out two assists. Novack also finished with 11 points and Lopez contributed eight to go along with his team-high three assists. Moratti finished with six points and eight rebounds.
Defensively, Romance had three steals.