A well-oiled Fountain Hills boys basketball team, ranked among the best in Division III, squashed Payson’s hopes of pulling off the upset of the season, whipping the Horns 78-49 on Jan. 31 in Wilson Dome.
The visiting Falcons jumped out to a 22-9 lead in the first eight minutes; expanded it to 45-26 at halftime; and coasted to the win.
In the loss, the Longhorns turned in one of their worst shooting nights of the season, hitting just 21 of their 61 attempts (34 percent).
Cole Belcher was about the only Horn player to muster much offense, finishing with 13 points.
Tanner Hintze, the team’s lead scorer, was held to nine points. Josh Oakley contributed six and Richard Neilson had five.
Sometimes prep teams can make up for shooting woes by cashing in at the free throw line. But Payson drew just 10 fouls and hit five of the attempts, so the charity stripe was not much help.
Some of the Horns’ setbacks can be attributed to a lack of offensive rebounding, which meant there weren’t many “put back” points. Not a single Payson player corralled more than one offensive rebound and, as a team, the Horns had just six.
In total rebounds, Hintze led with seven and Belcher had five.
The loss had to be a disappointment for coach Joe Sanchez, who was hoping the Horns could reap a bit of revenge for a two-point, gut-wrenching loss to the Falcons earlier in the season.
Also disappointing for the coach was a post-game scuffle involving some members of the Payson High School student cheering section and Fountain Hills players.
Details are sketchy as to what occurred, but witnesses say coaches and teachers had to separate players from the students and police were eventually called at the request of a Fountain Hills parent.
“I was very disappointed. Very embarrassed,” Sanchez said. “I love our student section during the game, but there is no room for that behavior.”
Fountain Hills coach Matt Johnson said, “I would prefer not to comment.”
“We definitely don’t condone this type of behavior and are looking at ways to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Gary Fishel, athletic director, Payson High School.
Blue Ridge prevails
Just one day after the loss to Fountain Hills, the Longhorns took on the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets on their home court in Lakeside.
There, Payson’s losing streak reached three games, with the Yellow Jackets prevailing 62-41.
Show Low tonight, then sectionals
Even with the three consecutive losses, the Horns are in decent shape to earn a berth into the D-III, Section III tournament when it begins Feb. 8 in Surprise.
Payson is sitting third in S-III in power points behind Fountain Hills and Parker. It would be too much to expect the Horns to overtake the two leaders because their point totals are much greater than Payson’s.
But it would behoove the Horn postseason hopes to win out and hold onto the No. 3 seed.
That would earn them a berth into the section tournament against the No. 6 seed, which could turn out to be North Pointe, Scottsdale Christian or Camp Verde.
That however could change as the results of the final games of the season are turned in.
Payson wraps up the season today, Feb. 3 in Show Low against a Cougar team the Horns overwhelmed earlier this season by a 70-39 measure.
A top-four showing in the sectional tournament or a high ranking in power points would earn the Horns a berth in the D-III state tournament when it tips off Feb. 12 at a site to be determined. A field of 24 teams will compete.
State second-round games will be played Feb. 17 in NAU Walkup Skydome and on Feb. 20 the quarterfinals are set for Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley. The semifinal on Feb. 24 and championship game on Feb. 25 will be held at Jobbing.com Arena in Glendale.