Someone forgot to tell Salt River Eagles players they were no match for the Payson Longhorn hardwood stalwarts having been waylaid 69-27 by PHS earlier this season.
In the second meeting of the two teams, Jan. 20 near Scottsdale, the game was played to expectations as the Eagles struggled in the first three quarters trailing 52-32 with eight minutes remaining.
But in the final stanza, the Eagles rose up from their own ashes much like the mythical Phoenix bird to outscore Payson 27-18 and pull the final score to a respectable 70-59.
With Payson’s win, its second consecutive, the team improved to 13-8 overall and 4-3 in Section III.
In power point standings, which do not include tournament games, the Horns are 8-4 and ranked fourth in Division III, Section III.
Their power point total of 53.769 is about two points better than fifth place Camp Verde and about one less than third place Valley Christian.
If the Section III tournament were to begin today, Payson would open as the four seed pitted against No. 5 Camp Verde.
That game would be played Feb. 8 at Willow Canyon High School in Surprise.
The concerning news in that scenario is that Payson would be aligned in the same tournament bracket as No. 1 Fountain Hills and a win over Camp Verde would mean Payson would take on the Falcons in the second round.
If the Horns can improve their power point ranking to at least No. 3, they would advance to the tournament’s lower bracket and possibly not face Fountain Hills until the championship game.
In the Horns’ win over Salt River, coach Joe Sanchez emptied his bench giving playing time to the entire roster, which allowed all the players, except one, to break into the scoring column.
A trio of Horns, Tanner Hintze, C.J. Nottingham and Cole Belcher, finished as double-digit scorers.
Hintze led all with 16 points and Nottingham contributed 14 on commendable 6-for-8 shooting that included hitting 2-of-4 three-point attempts. Belcher tallied 10 points.
As a team, the Longhorns shot a respectable 62 percent from the field.
In addition to Belcher’s scoring, he turned in a fine all-around performance that included five rebounds, two steals, two assists and a blocked shot.
Hintze, usually the team’s rebounding leader, had just four, none of them on the offensive glass.
Payson returns to the hardwood tomorrow, Jan. 25, in Wilson Dome against Mogollon.
The two teams met earlier this season with Payson taking an 83-63 win.
Following tomorrow’s game vs. Mogollon, the Horns have just five games remaining in the regular season to improve their power points total.
Of those games, four — vs. St. Johns, Alchesay, Blue Ridge and Show Low — appear very winnable.
But the other, a Jan. 31 clash in Wilson Dome against Fountain Hills, could turn into a test of character and determination.
Although the Falcons are considered one of the top teams in D-III, the Horns threw a big-time scare into the birds on Dec. 20 losing a 65-63 squeaker.
The upcoming game vs. FH could also be a preview of the Section III tournament championship.