What a difference a couple of days can make.
Especially when it concerns the Payson High School baseball team.
For example, in an 8-6 win over Chino Valley on March 24, the Horns committed an almost inexcusable five errors.
But two days later in a 7-6 victory vs. Snowflake, the Longhorns righted themselves playing error-free baseball.
The faux pas committed vs. Chino left Coach Scott Novack a bit exasperated.
“Five errors is a lot to give up in a high school varsity game,” he said. “They (Chino) took advantage of our mistakes. Chino is a good program and their kids are fundamentally sound.”
Although the Horns played flawlessly in only one of the two games, the team did come away with a pair of Ws to improve their record to 7-1 overall and extend their winning streak to five games.
The string, however, will be severely tested today, March 29, when Payson travels to Lakeside to take on a 10-1 Blue Ridge team that is expected to battle the Horns and Show Low (9-2) for the East Region championship.
Following the clash vs. BR, Payson plays at Mogollon on March 30, then travels March 31 through April 2 to Goodyear for the Wolves Classic Tournament.
Looking for improvement at the plate
In the win over Chino, Payson hitters pounded out seven hits, but most importantly, struck out only three times.
That mark had to please Novack, who throughout the early season has stressed better discipline from his hitters.
Following the game, he lauded his players saying, “Way better approaches at the plate.”
Individually, senior Westin Gibson got the starting pitching nod from Novack and hurled three scoreless innings during which the Horns piled up a 7-0 lead.
In the top of the fourth, Chino got to Gibson for two hits and a run before the PHS hurler recovered to strike out two and get the third out on an infield pop up to shortstop Jake Sleeper.
In the bottom of the fourth, Payson scored again after Ryan Risland got aboard on an error, advanced on a passed ball and scored on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Juan Machado.
In the fifth, Chino rallied to close the Payson lead to 8-3 and an inning later pulled to within 8-6.
With the Cougars rallying and only one out against them, Zack Blazer replaced Gibson on the mound. Blazer gave up a single, struck out the next hitter and then was touched for a double.
Just when the situation was looking a bit precarious, Blazer got the third out on a fly ball to center field.
Payson was on the verge of tacking on an insurance run in the sixth after Ryan Risland got aboard and advanced into scoring position at third on Machado’s one-out double.
Risland, however, was thrown out at home attempting to score on an infield ground ball.
In the seventh, Chino loaded the bases with one out, but Sleeper — who had relieved Blazer on the hill — squashed the rally on a pop up and a routine infield ground out.
For the game, Gibson struck out eight, walked one, allowed three earned runs and gave up four hits in 5-1/3 innings.
In 2/3 of an inning, Blazer allowed two hits and struck out one.
Sleeper relieved for a full inning and did not allow a hit or give up a walk.
Lobos stymied by Horns tough “D”
In the error-free win over Snowflake, the Lobos took an early 2-1 lead off PHS starter Keaton Duran.
The Lobos later expanded it to 4-1 before Payson closed the Snowflake cushion to 4-3 in the bottom of the fourth. In the rally, Edwin Estrada walked, Dylan Richardson doubled and Nick McMullen drove in Estrada from third on a fielder’s choice.
With the two teams locked in a barnburner, Sleeper replaced Duran on the hill in the fourth frame and held the Lobos scoreless in both the fifth and sixth innings.
In the bottom of the fourth, Payson rallied to take a 7-4 lead thanks to doubles from Gibson and Sleeper and singles by Chance Randall and Estrada. Richardson contributed a sacrifice fly.
Snowflake closed the PHS lead to 7-6 in the seventh frame on Trevor Reddick’s two-run home run.
The Lobo rally, however, came to a screeching halt after Sleeper induced the next two Snowflake batters to ground out to Randall at third.
On the hill, Duran allowed three hits, struck out four and walked three. All four of the runs he gave up were earned.
Sleeper allowed two earned runs, three hits and struck out three without walking a batter.
The Lobos committed three errors.