The Longhorns came out slow, but ended strong Tuesday night, winning their first game of the season against the Globe Tigers by nearly 30 points.
First year varsity coach Joe Sanchez said it was a great start to the season and predicted many more wins in the games to come.
“We truly are going to go far with these guys,” he said. “We have a team of leaders.”
With the Horns working well together, Sanchez said the 6 a.m. practices were paying off.
Sanchez started working with most of the players when they were eighth-graders. Now juniors and seniors, the teens know each other’s individual strengths and weaknesses and help each other out both in practice and in games.
“I don’t feel like there are a lot of egos,” he said. “They know it is not about any individual, but playing as a team and they will be successful because of that.”
Against the Tigers, the team worked hard and led the first three quarters of the game in points. The game ended 68-41 Payson.
“I felt like maybe we started off kind of slow and Globe came out ready to play, they were very physical,” Sanchez said. It took our guys some time to relax, but by the second and third quarter they had taken off.”
The defense was on point and several players had a great offensive game.
Tanner Hintze, a 6-foot-5-inch forward, led the team with 21 points, followed by Guillermo Lopez with 11, nine of those from the three-point line.
Cameron Romance led with two steals and three assists. Tied with seven points each were Josh Oakley, Cole Belcher and Jake Hacker.
Not only was it his first varsity game, it was Hacker’s first time playing basketball competitively since eighth grade.
Although Hacker, a senior, had played with most of the team in eighth grade, he had given up the sport and it took quite a bit of convincing to get him to come back, Sanchez said. “Every time I saw him I told him to come out,” he said.
Other players kept on Hacker as well, telling him to join. Two weeks before tryouts, Hacker finally told Sanchez he wanted to play.
At 6 feet, 5 inches, Hacker is a great addition to the team and on the regular rotation, he said.
The team recently voted on captains and selected Hintze, Belcher and Oakley. While also some of the team’s strongest players, Sanchez said the team is not about who is best.
“I am just really encouraged with the their attitudes,” he said. “They are all gentlemen.”
While team players, they are not pushovers, he added.
Even though Payson led most of the game Tuesday and carried a large lead into the fourth quarter, they never acted like it was a done deal.
“We never let down the pressure, we kept it consistent on every play,” Sanchez said.
By the fourth quarter, even JV players got a chance to play in the game, getting some valued experience.
“Sometimes I feel like more of a fan than their coach, because I enjoy watching them play,” he said.
Payson takes on the Mogollon Mustangs in Heber on Nov. 29. The Mustangs beat Show Low Tuesday, 72-65 in overtime.
Sanchez says Tuesday’s game should be high pace.
The Horns got a bit of a break after beating out Globe, but were back at practice at 6 a.m. Friday.
The team doesn’t seem to mind the early workouts with no one showing up late or complaining, Sanchez said.
“The kids have commitment to wake up that early to practice,” he said. “They are there ready to play.”