The Longhorn baseball team overcame a lack of practice time and preseason doldrums to finish 4-0 and win the championship of the inaugural Fountain Hills Invitational tournament this weekend.
During the course of the tournament’s four days, the Horns opened with a 2-0 win over Northwest Christian and followed it up with a 7-6 triumph vs. Bourgade.
After a day’s rest, the team returned to Fountain Hills to thump Winslow 12-3 and in the championship finale ran rampant over Camp Verde 18-1.
“We struggled a little bit against Northwest and Bourgade due to so few practices,” coach Scott Novack said. “The opportunity to go home (after the win over Bourgade), go to class and have batting practice I think helped us tremendously.
“We had the perfect schedule.”
Much of the credit for the win over Camp Verde can be attributed to the pitching of Miguel Mendoza who over the course of five shut-out innings gave up four hits, walked just one and struck out five.
Mendoza gave way to Garrett Geske in the bottom of the sixth when CV scored its lone run.
While Mendoza was mowing down opposing batsmen, Horn hitters were lighting up the Falcon scoreboard as if it was a casino marquee on Las Vegas’ glitzy strip.
In the onslaught, Nick McMullen turned in a game some players only dream about, finishing 4-for-4, with six RBIs and three runs scored.
Leadoff hitter Dailey Carnes was on base all five of his at-bats, scored three runs and had an RBI.
Dylan Richardson added to the ambush finishing 3-for-4 with three runs scored.
Mendoza was 3-for-5, with three runs scored and an RBI. Geske contributed three RBIs.
All in all, Payson’s offense was hitting on all cylinders, much like a fine tuned V-8.
Although Novack was elated with the team’s pitching and hitting in the finale, he also attributed the Cowboys’ lackluster performance to fatigue.
“Camp Verde looked to be very talented but tired,” he said. “They had only 10 guys for the tournament.”
Against a Winslow team the Horns had met only a week earlier in a preseason scrimmage in which no score was kept, the Horns received a standout pitching effort from Richardson, who hurled a complete six innings, giving up just one earned run while scattering six hits, striking out six and walking one.
Despite having three starters out with injuries, the Horns played well against a perennially tough Winslow team.
Cale Novack, Tyus Sarnowski and C.J. Nottingham all sat out due to injuries, which was a bugaboo that plagued the Horns in 2011.
“Shades of last year,” said the coach. “But all of our reserves responded by playing well — hopefully that will continue.”
In the clash, Payson opened with a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first only to have the Dogs come barking back in the bottom of the second to dead knot the score at 2-2.
After Winslow took a 3-2 cushion in the top of the third, the Horns mustered the mother of all rallies, scoring six runs in the bottom of the third on consecutive singles by Richardson, Chance Randall, McMullen, Dougherty and Geske.
The Horns continued to build on the lead as Richardson’s offerings off the hill kept the Dogs at bay.
In the latter frames, Randall cracked his third triple of the tournament to finish the invitational with six hits, five of them for extra bases.
“Not bad for a catcher,” Novack said.
Randall was also on base 12 times in the tournament.
McMullen, against Winslow, was 3-for-3 with a double, three RBIs and a run scored.
In the second game win over Bourgade, the Horns won the one-run thriller by rallying from an early 5-0 deficit to 6-5 in the final inning.
Garrett Geske had the winning run doubling home Carnes in the bottom of the sixth.
Tyus Sarnowski started on the mound, but struggled early before being relieved in the second by Gunner Goodman. But the time Goodman departed the mound, Bourgade had built to the 5-0 lead only to see it vanish as timely hits by Richardson and walks to Dougherty, Randall and Sam Grassel jump started a game-winning rally.
Following the game, Novack praised Randall for his work behind the plate that included throwing 1-of-2 runners out on steal attempts and allowing no passed balls. At the plate, Randall had two triples in three appearances.
The Horns return to play tomorrow Thursday, March 1, at Heber Mogollon.