Although the Payson High baseball season ended a month ago when the Longhorns lost to Tucson Empire in the state semifinals, team members continue to play in an off-season program coach Brian Young anticipates will make PHS even more formidable during the 2014 campaign.
The summer program has consisted of five doubleheaders and a nine-inning game vs. Combs.
The twin bills were against Miami, Holbrook, Poston Butte, Mingus and Phoenix Christian.
Against Combs, both coaches agreed to just nine innings, “Because we were both short on pitching,” said Young.
For most of the games, which have been played in the evenings, the Horn roster has consisted of 15 players.
Which means, “We do a lot of subbing and moving guys around to different positions,” Young said.
Young has used the games to evaluate his players at different positions and decide where they can best help the team.
Also, Young is scouring the lineup to determine which players can step up and provide the leadership that all successful teams need. Throughout the summer the focus has been on improvement and learning rather than Ws and Ls.
“The intensity level is pretty low during the summer games especially coming off the state tournament games that we played,” said Young. “But the guys have been getting their work in.
“We are looking to continue teaching and coaching, especially some of our younger guys.”
One of Young’s goals in going into the off-season was to improve the pitching staff and it appears the goal is nearing fruition.
“I have been very pleased with our pitching,” the coach said. “Pitchers are working on not walking guys and continuing to get control of second and third pitches.”
At the conclusion of the regular season in May, Young invited all the junior varsity and varsity players to turn out for the summer program and most all accepted, including those who are playing club ball in the Valley.
“By the time we get deep into the fall, our guys will have played a lot of baseball, which can only help them as we head into next season,” Young said.
With almost all of last year’s players returning to the Longhorn fold for 2014, fans and spectators are anticipating a banner campaign next season.
“We know the expectations will be very high going into the season and I think the guys are willing to put the work in to make sure we are meeting those expectations,” Young said. “It is very exciting.”
The excitement the coach is referring to has been fueled by the return of a team that could be the most formidable since the 1999 group that won the Class 3A state championship.
From last season’s team, the Horns lost only one player, Gunner Goodman, to graduation and return a solid nucleus of athletes led by all-everything Nick McMullen.
Last season, McMullen was named co-All Section III Player of the Year.
Later, members of the Arizona Baseball Coaches Association named McMullen to the Division III All-State first team as a first baseman.
During the season, McMullen powered 11 home runs, the most in Division III and third in the state behind Arcadia’s Max Schuman and Gilbert’s Jack Zoeliner, who both slugged 12.
Also, McMullen’s seven triples and seven doubles were among the best marks in D-III.
He also ranked fourth in the state RBIs with 47 and ninth in runs scored with 41. His .554 on base percentage was one of the best in the state.
As good as McMullen is, the Horns will not be a one-man team next year. Dailey Carnes, Tyus Sarnowski, Taran Sarnowski, David Evans, Miguel Mendoza and Rueben Estrada also return with valuable experience having played in all 30 of last season’s games.