With the 2012 season winding down, Longhorn basketball players and coach Joe Sanchez are battling for victories in hopes of adding power points, which will improve chances for an advantageous seed into the Division III, Section III tournament.
Just as all Horn faithful had hoped, the team added a victory to its resume on Jan. 17 in Wilson Dome where PHS outscored Blue Ridge 46-33.
The victory improved the team’s record to 12-8 overall and 4-3 in the section.
While almost nothing is certain in high school sports, it’s almost a given the Horns will add another “W” to their record when the team travels today to near Scottsdale to take on the Salt River Eagles.
The triumph is almost a done deal, if there can be such a thing when working with teenage athletes, because Payson manhandled the Eagles 69-27 in a Jan. 11 clash in Wilson Dome.
In that win, the Horns totally dominated the visitors especially in the third quarter when PHS outscored Salt River by a whopping 21-2 margin.
Knowing what we do about the earlier clash between SR and Payson, the Horns’ record should soon be 13-8, but knock on wood.
In the win against Blue Ridge, the Horns started sluggishly, allowing the Yellow Jackets to take an 8-4 lead. But the cushion didn’t hold up for long as the Horns came roaring back to take a 19-17 halftime lead.
From that point on it was Katie-bar-the-door as the Horns outscored the Jackets 27-16 in the second half.
While Payson did not have a double-digit scorer, the team thrived on a well-rounded scoring attack in which Jamie Wadington, Tanner Hintze and Jake Hacker tallied eight points each.
Josh Oakley, Cole Belcher and Guillermo Lopez all finished with five points.
On the 10-man roster, all but one player scored.
Lopez, a senior point guard whose job it is to be the team’s floor general, turned in a commendable all-around game with three rebounds, three steals, one assist and a blocked shot.
Payson’s rebounding was as well rounded as was its scoring with Cameron Romance and Hintze leading the team with four rebounds each.
Hacker, Lopez and Oakley corralled three apiece.
With the win, Payson moved up to fourth place in the Section III power point rankings, trailing only third place Valley Christian, runner-up Parker and top-rated Fountain Hills.
In power point rankings for the 58 schools in Division III, Payson is rated 20th.
The good news for the Horns is they have four games remaining in which to rack up more wins and improve their power points ranking.
The most crucial of those games will be Jan. 31 when the Longhorns host a Fountain Hills team that is 14-5 overall and 4-0 in Section III.
The two teams are no strangers to one another having met on Dec. 20 in Fountain Hills where the Falcons nipped PHS 65-63.
In FH’s win, 6-foot-3-inch junior swingman Matt Fisher turned in what has been his finest performance of the season scoring 25 points.
If the Payson defense can stop Fisher from going off like that again and also limit their turnovers, the Horns could be enjoying an upset and a big boost in power points.
Also to win vs. Fountain Hills and other schools remaining on the schedule, the Horns will need to crank up an offense that is averaging about 62 points per game this season.
Individually, Hintze is the scoring leader at 15 ppg, but Belcher is also a huge contributor averaging almost 12 ppg.
Hintze is also the team’s leading rebounder at 7.4 per game and has been mostly unselfish with the ball as evidenced by his 37 assists, which ties him for third on the team with Romance.
Of course no title contender is a one- or two-man team and for the Horns to advance to the postseason promised land they’ll need strong supporting efforts from the likes of Oakley, Lopez, Nottingham and rapidly improving senior Jake Hacker.