Prospects for a banner 2012 season looked promising for the Payson High baseball team after the Longhorns opened with a 6-0 record winning the Fountain Hills tournament and on March 13 improving to 8-1 with a 15-5 win over longtime rival Snowflake.
But in mid-March the wheels came of the Longhorn wagon as the team struggled for wins in a desperate attempt to finish among Division III’s top 24 teams in power points and earn a berth into the state tournament.
As the curtain gradually fell on the campaign in late April, the Horns desperately needed a win in their season finale against Camp Verde to earn the coveted state ducat.
At the time, coach Scott Novack called the clash a “must-have game.”
But a victory wasn’t in the Longhorns’ destiny as PHS fell 11-1 and into 25th place in the season-ending power points rankings.
Which means the Horns won’t be advancing to the state tournament when it begins May 4 in Surprise.
The 24th and final seed went to Monument Valley High School (13-6) who beat out 25th Payson (9-9 in power points) by .7 of one point. The Horns finished 16-10 overall but only regular season games are counted in power points standings.
Arizona Interscholastic Association strength of schedule criteria reveals the Longhorns had the second toughest schedule in the state, “but we never beat any of the top teams,” said Novack.
The team’s demise against Camp Verde, an opponent Payson had beaten twice earlier, once by an 18-1 count, has Novack scratching his noggin in bewilderment.
“We had four total hits for the game,” he said. “Our three and four hitters went 0-6 and three senior pitchers gave up 11 runs.”
Camp Verde’s Jesse Fulbright was the difference maker for the Cowboys, finishing 3-for-4 at the plate with four RBIs and a run scored. He also was the winning pitcher, hurling all six innings striking out three and walking two.
With the D-III tournament about to tip off, the Horns might be saying “what if” because there are three teams seeded rather high into the state tournament that the Horns beat this year.
On March 24, the Horns thumped No. 2 Winslow 12-3, and on April 20, PHS run ruled No. 8 Show Low 15-5. In an April 5 game, Payson doubled the score, 10-5, vs. No. 14 Holbrook.
Payson also has wins over No. 16 Snowflake and No. 17 Camp Verde.
With the season at an end and the Horns eliminated from post-season play, Novack is left to ponder individual awards.
“I am working on postseason nominations,” he said.
The results of the All-Division III team will be announced at the conclusion of the state tournament on May 12.
The senior members of the team are also eligible to be selected to play in the Arizona Baseball Coaches Association North vs. South all-Star game when it begins 7 p.m. June 2 at Surprise Stadium.
Also, seniors who earned honor roll academic status are eligible to play in the Academic All-Star Classic also in Surprise.
The time and date will be announced soon.
While nominees for post-season honors won’t be known for weeks, and coaches voting for final selections is an inexact science at best, the Horns do appear to have players with the credentials to receive all-division recognition.
Among those is first baseman/outfielder Nick Mullen who had a bust out year playing in all 26 of Payson’s games.
According to Max Preps statistics, McMullen led the team in hitting with a robust .488 average. He also hit for good power with a team-high 13 doubles, one triple and four home runs. Showing he had good plate discipline, he struck out just eight times in 82 at-bats.
His 44 RBIs is also a team high.
Third baseman/catcher Chance Randall compiled a .486 batting average with nine doubles five triples, seven home runs and 40 RBIs.
As the word of Randall’s hitting prowess and power spread around the state, opposing pitchers opted to intentionally walk him, resulting in a team-high 16 bases on balls.
Also in the Payson “O,” Cale Novack hit .414, Garret Geske posted a .370 average, Daily Carnes finished at .328 and Dylan Richardson compiled a .325 mark.
Will Dougherty led the pitching staff posting a 4-1 record pitching 33-2/3 innings which was second only the 36-2/3 pitched by Richardson.
Dougerty’s ERA of a 1.66 was also a team high.
Miguel Mendoza compiled a 4.52 ERA in 26-1/3 innings, Tyus Sarnowski posted a 3.79 ERA in 20-1/3 frames and Richardson carded 5.92
Mendoza was 4-2, Sarnowski 1-1 and Richardson 2-2.