The Longhorn baseball team’s state tournament upsets of favored Blue Ridge and Show Low might not rank up there with the Miracle on Ice, but players, fans and coaches will long remember the weekend that an underrated David of a team slew two White Mountain Goliaths.
In the first upset, May 3 at Surprise Sports Complex, the Horns took out a very good Blue Ridge team that had a first-round bye thanks to its No. 8 seed.
That looked like the upset of the postseason until the next day, when the Horns astonished fans by whipping Show Low 5-3, eliminating the No. 1 seeded state championship favorite.
“I am so proud of these guys, who nobody expected this from,” said Brian Young who is in only his first year at the helm of the program. “The best part is that we get to spend another week together practicing and working as a team.
With the upsets of Blue Ridge and Show Low, Payson advances to the state semifinals against No. 13 Empire, a Tucson team. The game will begin at 6:30 p.m., Friday, May 10 in Surprise Stadium.
If PHS can continue its winning ways, the Longhorns will advance to the state championship finale at 7 p.m. May 11 against the winner of a final four game pitting Chino Valley against Fountain Hills.
PHS won its only state crown in 1999.
Tommy Gun returns?
Fans watching Dailey Carnes expertly hurl the entire seven-inning win over Blue Ridge might have been muttering to themselves, “Shades of Tommy Gun,” referring to Tom Canale who starred for the Horns from 1993-97, one of the finest pitchers to ever don a PHS uniform who ended up playing for the Cleveland Indians.
Against Blue Ridge, Carnes displayed exceptional control no matter what pitch he threw. Also, Carnes proved a strike-out demon against Blue Ridge, with a fastball in the high 80s.
Carnes thoroughly dominated The Yellow Jackets’ befuddled hitters, giving up just three hits. He didn’t walk a single batter, but racked up 12 strike outs.
At one point, he struck out eight consecutive Jacket hitters.
For the game, he threw only 90 pitches — a miniscule mark for a full seven innings.
Ironically, Carnes has operated all season long as a relief ace — seldom pitching more than a few innings. In fact, his longest stint prior to the state playoffs was four frames.
Carnes not only dominated on the hill, but at the plate finished 2-for-3, with two RBIs.
Miguel Mendoza also turned in a day to write home about finishing 3-for-4 with one run scored.
Junior clean-up hitter Nick McMullen, obviously a team spark plug, hit 1-for-3 with two runs and an RBI.
During the middle innings, a McMullen gesture of good sportsmanship should have been noticed by everyone in the crowd, but probably wasn’t. It occurred just seconds after he had hammered a line drive into left field that appeared to be going for extra bases. But the Yellow Jacket fielder flagged down the hot shot, robbing McMullen of a base hit.
As McMullen ran off the field, he looked over his shoulder at the Blue Ridge fielder who had caught his line drive. In one swooping gesture, McMullen tilted his batting helmet toward the fielder, as if to say “nice catch.”
Show Low coach David Nikolaus opted to pass on his pitching ace Zack Winn in the Cougars’ tournament opener against Combs on May 3. All season long, Nikolaus has been wary of the Horns calling them “a very good team.” Instead, the Show Low coach — who was once himself a three-sport star for the Cougars — saved his star to pitch against Payson.
“The last time he faced us, we struck out 14 times and had only one hit,” Young said of Winn.
This time out, however, the Horns were primed and ready for the pitcher some argue is the best in the state.
The Cougars took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, but Payson tied it up with a run of its own in the bottom of the third.
Tied 1-1 in the top of the fifth, the Horns staged the mother of all rallies, scoring four runs that eventually proved too much for the Cougars to overcome.
Two of those runs came courtesy of a Show Low miscue. After Tyus Sarnowski hit an infield ground ball that the shortstop gloved but threw wildly over the Cougar first baseman. That allowed runs to score from second and third.
Also in the uprising, Gunner Goodman, McMullen and Carnes all singled.
Defensively, the Horns turned in probably their best effort of the season by not committing an error. Also, catcher Ruben Estrada threw out two Cougar base runners attempting to steal.
As for pitching, Tyus Sarnowski overcame a case of first inning jitters to settle down and pitch a solid 4 2/3 innings. He struck out nine and scattered six hits.
McMullen, who had turned in a stellar pitching performance in Payson’s 4-3 tournament-opening win over Rio Rico on April 30, relieved Sarnowski. Although McMullen didn’t have his best stuff, he slammed the door on the Cougars. He hurled 2 1/3 innings and gave up three hits and one run. In the bottom of the fifth with the bases loaded and two outs, McMullen rose to the challenge by striking out the SLHS hitter.
Click here Baseball to purchase pictures