While the Longhorn baseball team is off to an impressive 6-1 start highlighted by a 6-3 win over Division II Bradshaw Mountain, the real test of the team’s mettle should come today, March 12 against longtime rival Snowflake.
The Longhorns and Lobos have been involved in many epic struggles, especially during past seasons when the two schools were both members of the 3A East region.
The small-school baseball rivalry has its roots during the coaching tenures of Bruce Haught and Teddy Pettet and continued through the years Jerry Daniels was at the helm of the Payson High program.
While there’s never been much bad blood between the two schools, the rivalry seems to bring out the best in both teams’ players in most sports.
It’s in baseball, however, that the competition seems to turn red hot, mostly because the rivalry dates back to when the youths were 11 and 12 years old playing against one another in Little League All-Star tournaments.
If the Horns can somehow scratch and claw their way to a “W” over the Lobos today, it would stamp PHS a legitimate postseason contender.
And oh yes, there’s one other reward to be reaped with a victory — chest pounding bragging rights.
But before any celebrating can be considered, the coaching staff and players have a giant hurdle to clear.
The school district spring break began yesterday, Monday, and when those times of year roll around, young minds wander, thinking more of holiday frolic and good times than of baseball.
For coach Brian Young, spring break’s challenge, “is to stay focused and continue improving.”
The Horns host the Lobos today fresh off a 21-8 win on March 7 against homestanding Miami.
While a 13-run victory might seem to have been a breeze, don’t tell that to Young, “We came out vs. Miami a little flat. So hopefully this game proved to be a good learning experience about how we need to approach each game with a sense of focus.”
Young points to the emotional three-run win over Bradshaw Mountain on March 6 as one of reasons for the Horns’ lackadaisical start against Miami.
“Jumping back on the field the day after (beating Bradshaw) proved to be a little bit of a challenge,” the coach said. “Emotions and energy were really high on Wednesday and we came out Thursday and were a little bit flat.”
After taking one glimpse of the PHS scoring book, however, it’s tough to believe the offense was sluggish because it scored five runs in the first and one in the second.
Miami, however, managed to remain in contention, scoring five runs of its own in the two innings to close the Payson lead to 6-5.
Neither team scored in the third frame, but in the fourth, fifth and sixth the Horn offense ran rampant, scoring 15 runs to nail down the victory.
In all, Payson pounded out 14 hits, which included three doubles, a triple and a home run.
Some prep teams go a couple of weeks not churning out that much “O.”
Individually, Nick McMullen had a day to write home about, finishing 4-for-5 at the plate with a double, home run, two runs scored and two stolen bases.
Konner Duran finished 2-for-5 with three runs scored, two stolen bases and an RBI.
Miguel Mendoza had two singles in three at-bats, four runs scored, two stolen bases and an RBI.
David Evans chipped in with a perfect 2-for-2 effort and Logan Morgan was 1-for-1.
When on the base paths, the Horns were thieves extraordinaire, whipping 12 bases in 12 attempts.
“I felt like we had to work hard on the bases and needed to keep our foot on the pedal to create some energy because they were matching us stride for stride at the beginning of the game,” said Young.
On the mound, Tyus Sarnowski started and hurled 3-2/3 innings giving up six earned runs while striking out seven and walking three. Sarnowski was credited with the win.
McMullen relieved pitching in 2-1/3 shutout innings in which he struck out four, gave up three hits and did not walk an opposing batter.
“This was Nick’s most extended time on the mound of the year and he was very strong,” said Young. “It was a good confidence booster and we know we can count on Nick moving forward.”
Game time today vs. the Lobos is 5:30 p.m. The varsity clash will be preceded at 3 p.m. by a junior varsity game.