Horns Face Crucial Showdown Tonight


Cameron Romance goes in for an easy layup early in the first half, right after he stole the ball from a Mogollon Mustang player and raced to the basket for two points.

Cameron Romance goes in for an easy layup early in the first half, right after he stole the ball from a Mogollon Mustang player and raced to the basket for two points. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Payson High School first-year basketball coach Joe Sanchez, also a former Longhorn player, loves home cookin’.

And he’s hoping for a healthy plate of it this evening, Jan. 31, in Wilson Dome where his Horn hardwooders play host to Fountain Hills in what could be both teams’ most crucial game of the season.

The home cookin’ Sanchez is hoping will be dished up is an overflowing crowd of PHS fans to show up and cheer the team’s every move, providing the support all teenage athletes thrive on.

The game is particularly significant in Division III hoops, Sanchez said, “Because they are ranked in the top five in power points and we continue to move up. We lost to them (on Dec. 20) by two points at their place.”

A key to a Payson victory this evening could be slowing the Falcons’ 6-foot, 3-inch junior swingman Matt Fisher, who turned in what has been his finest performance of the season in the first meeting of the two teams — scoring 25 points.

If the Payson defense can stop Fisher from going off like that again and also limit their own turnovers, the Horns could be enjoying an upset and a big boost in power points.

Those points are desperately needed because Payson’s four-game winning streak was snapped Jan. 28 in Whiteriver where a surprisingly good effort from Alchesay spelled the demise of the Horns, 55-50.

Almost all onlookers were expecting PHS to breeze into Whiteriver, expand the Horn winning streak to five games and return to the Rim Country to prepare for Fountain Hills.

But that scenario didn’t unfold as anticipated, mostly because the Falcons were able to build an early 12-8 lead and expand it to 24-17 at halftime.

In the second half, PHS outscored the Falcons 33-31, but the mild rally was too little, too late.

Tanner Hintze, Payson’s leading scorer, suffered a rare off night from the field, hitting just 3-of-15 attempts, but was 9-of-12 from the free throw line to finish with a team-high 15 points.

In almost every game this season, the Horns have had two and three players in double digits, but in Whiteriver, Hintze was the lone scoring threat.

Josh Oakley contributed eight points and Cole Belcher and Guillermo Lopez had seven each.

Hintze’s 11 rebounds were tops on the team, as were his four blocked shots.

Once again, turnovers were a bugaboo, as Payson committed 26 miscues.

Just two days prior to traveling to Whiteriver, the Horns were in St. Johns to take on the homestanding Redskins.

Although the Redskins have a storied basketball history, especially under the tutelage of Veryl Heap, who in his coaching tenure had a 592-168 won-loss record and won 20 region titles and three state championships, they were no match for the runnin’ and gunnin’ Longhorns. The team lost to Payson, 69-58.

The skirmish was hotly contested early on with St. Johns taking a 37-32 lead into the halftime locker room.

But the Horns came out on fire in the third quarter, outscoring the Redskins 18-8.

After taking a 50-45 lead in the final eight minutes, the Horns continued to pull away thanks in part to Hintze’s 24 points and 19 from Belcher

Hintze also contributed 13 rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Belcher was a monster on the boards, corralling a game-high 18 missed shots.

As a team, the Horns had one of their finest floor games of the season committing just 16 turnovers.

Following tonight’s game vs. Fountain Hills, the Horns have just two games remaining on the regular season schedule — Feb. 1 vs. Blue Ridge in Lakeside and Feb. 3 at Show Low.

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