Longhorn baseball players, fresh off two losses to Fountain Hills, could be bolstered by a new resolve and more determination when they return to the diamond March 29 to host the Page Sand Devils.
The team’s rekindled will seemed to surface March 24 when all but one player showed up for a voluntary Saturday morning practice.
“They worked hard together and hopefully had some fun,” coach Scott Novack said. “The guys could be learning something.”
Payson opened the season on a six-game winning streak, but has since struggled in losses to Bradshaw Mountain, 10-0; Blue Ridge, 8-6; Fountain Hills, 20-4; Snowflake, 9-3; and Fountain Hills again, 7-3. The team now stands 8-5 overall.
In all-important power point rankings, which are used to seed teams into the state tournament, Payson is sitting 17th in Division III and eighth in D-III, Section III.
On Thursday, against a 4-7 Page team that has sometimes struggled this season, the Horns are facing a golden opportunity to end a four-game losing streak.
The Sand Devils are led offensively by senior infielder Sumner Resmondo who is hitting .444, but has only four extra base hits. Levi Hall, a 6-foot, 4-inch, 220-pound senior is the ace on the pitching staff. In 16-plus innings pitched, he is 2-1, but has a rather expansive 5.14 ERA.
Payson enters Thursday’s game having enjoyed a season’s rarity — three consecutive days of practice.
In the 7-3 loss to FH on March 23, the Horns played well defensively in what Novack says was “five out of six innings.”
But in the fifth inning, one in which Payson led 3-1, the Falcons rallied to take the lead and never again relinquish it.
In the frame, FH scored four on a grand slam home run and on missed cut-off throws, base hits and walks.
Payson coughed up a sterling opportunity to score in the fourth inning with runners on second and third with just one out. But the next two PHS hitters went down on strikes to end the threat.
Gunner Goodman, Dylan Richardson and Will Dougherty shared pitching duties.
Dougherty, the starter, might have been the most effective of the three, giving up three runs on five hits and striking out three in four-plus innings.
Offensively, Randall was 1-for-3 with three RBIs.
Cale Novack was also 1-for-3 with a single, a run scored and was on base twice.
In all, Payson had only three base hits against what the coach is calling “a good Fountain Hills lefty.”
In the 20-4 loss to FH on March 16, the Falcons struck first when Randy Brynarski slugged a grand slam home run in the first to propel his team out to a 4-0 lead from which FH never looked back.
“We made four errors, struck out four times, gave up 20 runs and had only four hits,” said Novack. “It was a total team loss.”