Those patented late rallies that carried the Longhorn baseball team to a 13-11 win over Winslow and a 13-5 drubbing of Holbrook were nowhere to be found in a 13-2 loss to the Show Low Cougars.
“After getting away with poor approaches at the plate in the first two games, but saving them with last-second adjustments and heroics, our mistakes came back to haunt us,” said first-year head coach Scott Novack. “The changes we are trying to make, both offensively and defensively, are taking too long.”
In the East region opener, which was played March 15 in Cougar land, Payson opened on fire, scoring two runs in the top of the first on a lead-off single by Jake Sleeper and Westin Gibson’s home run. In the bottom of the frame, the Cougars parlayed four walks and a fielder’s choice into a run to pull within 2-1.
Neither team scored in the second inning but the David Nikolas-coached green and gold broke the game wide open in the fourth, scoring four runs on a walk, doubles by Justin Nikolaus and Spencer Mallett and a home run.
The Cougars scored another run in the fourth and salted the game away in the sixth with a seven-run outburst that ended the game on the 10-run mercy rule.
“We took a horrible butt-whipping from a good team,” Novack said.
While the Show Low offensive machine was cranking out runs in big inning blitzkriegs, Cougar hurler Zach Winn was turning in a yeoman-like effort, giving up just two runs on six hits. He walked two and struck out seven, “Primarily using fastballs,” Novack said.
For Payson, Keaton Duran started on the hill and was relieved by Zack Blazer during Show Low’s big third inning.
Cale Novack, the coach’s son, who is normally an infielder, relieved Blazer “because we have three more games this week,” said Coach Novack.
The coach’s strategy was apparently not to use up more of his pitching against Show Low, instead saving it for games this week against St. Johns and Alchesay.
The trio of Payson hurlers struck out five, but also walked nine.
The clash vs. Alchesay, to be played today, March 18 in Payson, is a double header.
But back to the game vs. Show Low.
In it, Gibson, Sleeper and Edwin Estrada were both 2-for-3 at the plate, with Estrada getting on base three times.
Kyle Randall stroked an infield hit in the second.
The game marked a region coming out party of sorts for Show Low’s Rathen Ricedorff who is playing baseball for the first time.
Ricedorff quarterbacked the Cougars to the state football title and everyone living with a few miles of Deuce of Clubs was wondering if he could do the same for the baseball team.
His showing was decent — he stroked a three-run homer in two trips to the plate.
A game stat some might overlook, but one that haunted the Horn effort, was Show Low’s performance on the base paths.
By stealing six bases, the cats were able to keep the Longhorn defense guessing.
While the loss was a disappointment for Payson players and boosters, the Horns will have the opportunity to turn the tables on April 6 when the Cougars visits Payson for a 4 p.m. East region showdown.