While the Longhorn boys basketball team’s 10-16 regular-season record was not the credentials coach Joe Sanchez and the players were hoping for at the onset of the season, it is good enough to earn the team a berth into the Division III, Section III tournament.
The Horns open the postseason fray today, Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 5:45 p.m. against Glendale Cortez at Willow Canyon High School in Surprise.
Payson takes a No. 6 seed to the tournament against a No. 3 seeded Cortez who sports a sterling 17-5 record and is on a three-game winning streak.
In facing Cortez, the Horn defense will have to find a way to stop, or at least contain, 5-foot, 8-inch senior point guard Jorrel Smith who is averaging 25.5 ppg.
Scouting reports indicate the flashy Smith is not the least bit shy about launching three-pointers, having cashed in on 58 of 118 attempts from beyond the 19-foot, 9-inch arc.
His 49-percent shooting average from three-point land is one of the better marks in the state and renders him a “must stop” if the Horns are to win the sectional opener.
Since the Horns play mostly man-to-man defense, Sanchez must select the defender he believes has the best chance of containing Smith. Or, he could go with some type of gimmick defense, like a box-and-one, which is unlikely. The best chance of slowing Cortez’s shooting star might be chest-to-chest, one-on-one “D” with help and double teams from teammates.
Over the course of the season, Smith has scored 30-plus points in four games and his season high of 38 was chalked up Nov. 1 in a 74-63 win over archrival Glendale.
The Cortez lineup does have some size in 6-foot, 9-inch Matt Drannbauer and 6-foot, 5-inch Colin Duhart, but reports indicate neither are big-time offensive threats.
Payson will be paced in the postseason by 6-foot, 5-inch senior forward/center Tanner Hintze who leads the team in scoring with a 15-plus ppg average.
Hintze is also a strong rebounder, especially on the defensive boards, and takes plenty of playing experience and moxie to sectionals, having been a three-year varsity letter winner.
Rock-steady senior Guillermo Lopez is the Horns’ second leading scorer, averaging just over 14 ppg. He’s also a very capable floor general who can defend, dish out assists, rebound and shoot the three-ball when called upon.
Senior Richard Nielson, a 5-foot, 10-inch guard, averages just under double digits and gives the Horns a forth player who can both score and rebound.
Austin Young, Jared Varner, Ty Davis, Matt Davis and Justin Carlen have all contributed to the Horn cause during the regular season and will be asked to shoulder some of the load both offensively at defensively vs. Cortez.
If the Horns can find a way to contain Smith and slip past Cortez, PHS would advance to an S-III second-round game to be played 4:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at Valley Vista High School.
The sectional tournament culminates with the championship finale at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9 at Valley Vista.
More games today
In other first-round S-III games today, No. 1 Scottsdale Christian plays No. 8 North Pointe prep at 7:30 p.m. at Valley Vista.
At 5:45 p.m. also at Valley Vista, No. 5 Fountain Hills takes on No. 4 Estrella Foothills and at 7:30 p.m. at Willow Canyon High School, No. 2 Valley Christian challenges No. 7 Northwest Christian.
The top 24 teams of the 60 schools aligned in D-III advance to the state tournament set to begin Feb. 12 and continue on Feb. 15, 19, 22 and 23.