Baseball Jesse Conway

Junior Jesse Conway and the Longhorns had a lot to laugh about this season.

Payson swept a baseball doubleheader from Fountain Hills this season.

But beating a team three times in a season can be difficult.

And that proved to be the case as the 14th seeded Falcons eliminated the No. 3 Longhorns from the 3A state tournament with an 11-2 upset victory in the Round of 16 at Surprise Baseball Complex on Friday night.

Fountain Hills (12-15) was ranked No. 21 in the 3A rankings before beating No. 12 Show Low 4-1 in a state tournament play-in game in Show Low on Tuesday to move up to the No. 14 seed for the 16-team tournament.

As one of the top eight teams in the rankings, the Longhorns (19-8 overall, 15-3 in the power points games that count in the rankings) earned an automatic berth in the 16-team tournament. And Payson seemed to have the talent and leadership to reach the quarterfinals for the third straight season and fourth time in seven years under coach Brian Young.

But Joe Merklin’s squad simply out-played a team that beat it 10-0 and 10-6 in Payson on March 20. The Falcons out-hit Payson 11-4.

“This game was pretty mystifying,” Young said. “We had a great week of practice and preparation. The guys were really focused and were ready to play and we hit well all week. We just didn’t hit once the game started.

Young said Merklin and the Falcons deserve credit for the victory.

“They improved a ton of the course of the season,” he said. “They have a great coach that really got the most out of his guys and has them swinging the bats really well right now. They just flat came out and beat us in every phase of the game.”

No. 6 Sabino eliminated Fountain Hills 10-0 in the quarterfinals the next day to advance to the semifinals to meet No. 2 Queen Creek American Leadership Academy on Saturday.

The Longhorns scored their only runs in the second inning. Jesse Conway tripled and scored and RJ Butler doubled in a run.

Conway started and pitched two innings before River Phillips pitched the next 4 1/3. Kevin Cerna came on to get the final two outs in his first game action on the mound since the ace suffered a shoulder injury at Snowflake on March 26. The shortstop-pitcher was unavailable to pitch the next 14 games, serving as designated hitter instead.

Young said he hopes his players remember the good times in a season that saw them spend time at No. 1 in the 3A rankings, go 9-1 in winning a second outright 3A East Region Championship in three years and finish 10-0 at home.

“I hate for it to end like this after such a great season,” he said. “I don’t think it takes anything away from how great of a season we had. These guys really did some incredible things.

“We had a strong senior class that we will miss going into next season. But we also bring back a big junior class. There is a lot of talent there and if they develop into the leaders that we think they can then we will be in really good shape. We will bring back the majority of our innings pitched from this year. You can’t discount how much that kind of experience will help us moving forward.

“The goal will be to come back and keep competing for region titles and put ourselves in position to get back to the tournament.”

Contact the reporter at kmorris@payson.com

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