If they beat Show Low at 6 p.m. tonight, Payson’s baseball team clinches the 3A East championship outright.
And that’s just how the Longhorns want it.
It’s not a must win, since they need only one win in their final three games to claim the region crown. They’ve already assured themselves of at least a share of the title, but the AIA uses several tiebreakers designed to avoid co-champions.
Payson might just come out on top in any of those scenarios, but might also wind up second.
They may not have to win tonight, but you can be sure they want to and avoid waiting for Friday night’s home game against Winslow or Monday’s game at Blue Ridge.
They want to build on Friday’s dramatic 6-5 home-field walk-off win over Snowflake that left them 7-0 in the 3A East and in control of their own destiny.
That triumph came one night after San Tan Foothills snapped their 10-game winning streak with a 3-1 victory at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on Thursday afternoon.
Friday’s win left the Longhorns (12-2 and No. 4 in Friday’s 3A rankings) in clear control of the region. No. 6 Snowflake and Winslow are both 4-3 in the region and Blue Ridge 3-3.
The Longhorns rallied from a 5-1 deficit with five runs in the final three innings to complete the season series sweep against Snowflake as RJ Butler singled in Makoa Rich with the winning run.
Rich drove in three runs as the Longhorns won despite being out-hit 8-5. Five walks helped Payson.
Payson also won 9-5 in Snowflake on March 26. But that win came at great cost as senior pitching ace Kevin Cerna suffered a shoulder injury that’s limited him to a designated hitter role ever since. He’s not expected to pitch again this season.
The Longhorns hope a staff led by Jesse Conway, River Phillips and Joshua Wright is enough to finish off a 3A East championship season and give them a shot at a state championship.
Well, they’ve done pretty well so far. The Horns are 5-0 in 3A East games since Cerna’s injury.
Wright and Phillips combined to scatter eight hits and give the Longhorns a chance to win.
An offense that’s been potent most of the season hasn’t been as ferocious in the last two games.
The Longhorns managed just four hits in the loss to No. 18 San Tan Foothills (6-6) the previous day. It’s the fewest runs they’ve scored in power points games this year.
Against the Sabercats, Conway pitched well enough for the Longhorns to win. He yielded four hits, three walks and two runs in pitching the first six innings, striking out seven. Phillips allowed three hits, a run and fanned two.
The Horns showed their heart by bouncing back to win in dramatic fashion the next night.
“This was a pretty intense region game,” said Payson coach Brian Young. “I don’t like how we hit. We aren’t striking out much, but we just aren’t quite getting enough solid contact. With that said, our approaches at the plate were much stronger in this game than against San Tan. By the end we really bore down and got the hits we needed.”
“Wright pitched pretty well for four innings — a few too many walks, but he didn’t give up a lot,” Young said. “He kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win. Phillips came in for the last three innings and was tough. He didn’t give up anything the last couple of innings and that gave us a boost to win the game.”