This is certainly not what any of us had in mind.
With all but one player back from a team that reached the Division III state semifinals a year ago, the outlook was extremely bright for Payson’s baseball team entering the season.
And things may very well end with the Longhorns dancing in the sunshine — but not if they don’t play better than they have in the early going.
No. 9 PHS shocked top-seeded Show Low 5-3 in the quarterfinals for the Longhorn’s biggest win of last season.
But the Cougars got a measure of revenge at Payson on Thursday.
Show Low jumped out to a 6-0 lead after a half-inning before watching Payson rally to tie it 6-6 in the third. But the visitors bounced back with a run in the sixth and three in the seventh en route to a 10-6 victory.
The Cougars collected just seven hits. However, five errors, six walks and two hit batters hurt the Longhorns.
Poor defense has been a problem during the Horns’ 3-4 start. PHS is 2-2 in games figuring in the power rankings after a 1-2 performance at the Fountain Hills Invitational.
”We started out a little rough,” said PHS coach Brian Young. “Tyus Sarnowski started and just had a tough inning. We extended it by making a couple of errors. It definitely isn’t the way you want to start a big game against a team that is really hot right now. But even with spotting them six runs we still felt very confident in what we could do.”
Show Low, which lost six players to graduation from last year’s 22-6 squad, including standout pitcher Zach Winn, improved to 10-1 overall and 6-0 power points games.
Young said the rematch with the Cougars was obviously not a typical game.
“This was a pretty emotional game and I think some of that came from the last time we had played in the state tournament,” he said. “We have a lot of respect for the Show Low program. They are always going to come out and play hard. I thought we did a very nice job keeping our composure for the first five innings and then we let some things get to us. At this point we are still learning how to handle some situations. Talent is not a problem on our team.”
Tyus Sarnowski pitched the first five innings, yielding four hits, five walks and plunking one. He struck out seven. Five of the six runs he allowed were earned. He pitched well after the rough first inning.
“Tyus really settled in after the first, only giving up two more hits and no more runs the rest of the way,” Young said. “Once he got to 100 pitches, we took him out.”
None of the four runs the Cougars scored off reliever Nick McMullen were earned. The senior surrendered three hits, walked one and hit another while fanning four in two innings.
James Lewis tripled and drove in three for Show Low. The senior also got the win with four one-hit shutout innings of relief. He fanned six and didn’t walk a batter after coming on for starter Triston Swanson. PHS touched Swanson for six hits and six runs — four earned — in three innings. SL committed two errors.
Dailey Carnes delivered the big blow for Payson, smacking a three-run homer over the left-field fence in the second inning to pull the Longhorns to within 6-5. PHS tied it 6-6 on a sacrifice fly by Jordan Landress in the third.
But Show Low scored a run in the sixth to go ahead for good then padded the lead in the seventh.
Konner Duran doubled and McMullen, Ruben Estrada and Taran Sarnowski had Payson’s other hits.
Although both teams play in Section V, this was not a section game. Only one game against each of the section’s eight other opponents figure in the section standings. The teams meet again in a section game at Show Low on April 25.
Payson was coming off a 13-1 five-inning mercy win at Camp Verde on March 11.
Duran and McMullen combined on a one-hitter, with Duran working the first four innings, allowing no hits, two walks, a hit batter and one earned run with seven strikeouts and McMullen yielding one hit and fanning one in a scoreless fifth.
Estrada was 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs to lead a 13-hit attack. Carnes and Miguel Mendoza both had two hits, Jesus Perez doubled and two in two and Taran Sarnowski also drove in a pair.
Things don’t get any easier for the Longhorns, who are at Fountain Hills today at 4 p.m. to face the defending state champions. The Falcons were 8-1 entering Friday’s against Florence. PHS entertains Snowflake at 4 p.m. Wednesday in a game the Longhorns are inviting spectators to bring canned food, which will be donated to local food banks.