The Payson High School boys basketball team begins pursuit of a Division III, Section III tournament championship tomorrow, Wednesday, Feb. 8, against Valley Christian at Valley Vista High School in Surprise.
The Horns (16-11) advance to the postseason shoot-out as a No. 4 seed against fifth seeded VC, a private parochial school in Chandler.
If the Horns whip VC, Payson would advance to a tournament semifinal game on Feb. 10 against the winner of an opening round clash pitting No. 1 Parker against No. 8 Northwest Christian. The winner of that game plays Feb. 11 for the sectional title.
All games will be played at Valley Vista.
The Division III state tournament tips off Tuesday, Feb. 14 at a site to be determined.
The Horns enter the tournament having put an end to a three-game losing streak with a 52-46 triumph over Show Low in a season finale played Feb. 3 in Show Low.
In the skirmish — which featured two foes who were big-time rivals when both were members of the now defunct 3A East — the home-standing Cougars took a 22-20 lead into the locker room, but Payson came alive in the third quarter building a 35-32 lead.
In the final eight minutes, the Horns continued to build on the slim cushion, outscoring the Cats 17-14 to salvage the much-needed win.
Individually, Tanner Hintze, the Horns’ leading scorer, finished with a game-high 20 points, even though he struggled at the line hitting just 4-of-11 free throw attempts.
As a team, the Horns shot just 50 percent (17-of-34), from the charity stripe, which is an accuracy mark that must be improved upon if the team expects to play deep into the sectional and division tournaments.
Another mark that requires a big boost in the postseason is shooting from beyond
the 19-foot-9-inch arc, where the team made just 1-of-11 three-pointers vs. the Cougars.
Since the inception of the three-point line in high school basketball, the long-range bombs have proved to a difference maker.
Which means if Payson players can’t shoot from downtown better than they did vs. Show Low, the team will be without an advantage that can mean the difference between a “W” or an “L.”
Also bolstering the Horn cause against Show Low were Josh Oakley’s 10 points, seven from Cole Belcher and six by C. J. Nottingham.
Cameron Romance turned in a commendable floor game with six steals, six rebounds and three assists.
Belcher also finished with six rebounds Hintze corralled five.
Trojans an unknown
Against the VC Trojans, the Horns will be playing a fellow member of D-III, S-III, but a team they did not play during the course of the regular season.
VC finished the year with a 14-11 mark averaging 58 points per game.
Although the two teams have not played one another, they did face a common opponent in Fountain Hills, a highly regarded squad that will take the No. 2 seed into the sectional tournament.
The Horns lost to Fountain Hills by scores of 76-49 and 65-63.
The Trojans dropped games to FH by 56-54 and 76-69 measures.
For VC this season, Nathan Travilla leads the team in scoring average with 10.7 ppg. Jeff Paschke, a junior forward, averages 8.7 ppg and leads the team in rebounding, averaging 6.4 per game.
Aaron Mauer shoots at an 8.7 ppg clip and hauls in 3.1 rebounds per game.
The Trojans’ front line of Travilla (6 feet, 4 inches), Paschke (6 feet, 4 inches) and Mauer (6 feet, 5 inches) give the Chandler school one of the taller center-forward combinations in Section III.
But as tall as the trio is, it is 5-foot, 7-inch senior point guard Dustin Nelson who pulls the trigger in the VC offense, having dished out a team-high 79 assists this season. He is also solid defensively, with 49 steals and is said to be capable of hitting the three ball when called upon. However, it is junior guard Brock Temple who is the team’s long range dead eye, hitting almost 50 percent (40-of-83) of his three-point attempts.
In other S-III tournament open round games tomorrow, No. 3 North Pointe plays No. 6 Scottsdale Christian and No. 7 Camp Verde takes on Fountain Hills.
The teams earned berths into the tournament via their top-eight standings in the sectional power point rankings.