A chance to wrap up a perfect 3A East baseball season for Payson ended with a disappointing 15-5 five-inning mercy rule loss at Lakeside Blue Ridge on Monday afternoon.
The Longhorns had already clinched the outright region title and finished with a 9-1 record in the region. Snowflake finished second at 6-4, three games behind the Longhorns.
Payson (14-3) entered the game at No. 2 in the 3A state rankings. The Longhorns fell one spot to No. 3 in Tuesday’s rankings.
No. 9 Blue Ridge (10-6) improved to 5-4 in the 3A East with a game at Show Low remaining on Tuesday (April 23).
Payson skipper Brian Young shouldered the blame for his team’s poor showing on Monday.
“We basically went up and had a rough day,” Young said. “It was poorly coached, poorly played and it was tough to watch. Clearly it meant a lot to Blue Ridge to go out and get the win and they played well. We didn’t have a lot of urgency on the field and it showed.
“I put us in some tough pitching spots and didn’t do any favors when we made pitching changes. A lot of that sits on me and how I managed the game. I let us down with what we needed to get done.”
This was the third meeting between the teams this season. It’s a reversal of the 15-5 five-inning mercy win by Payson at home on March 27.
Payson also beat Blue Ridge 11-3 in the Goodyear Estrella Foothills Wolves Classic on April 5.
Joshua Wright and Alan Cerna combined to limit Blue Ridge to three hits in the first region game between the teams. But the Yellow Jackets feasted on Payson pitching in this one, pounding out 14 hits and drawing six walks against starter Logan Plain, Makoa Rich and River Phillips. Payson’s two errors led to three unearned runs.
The Longhorns had managed to keep winning region games despite the loss to injury of ace Kevin Cerna.
But the senior’s unavailability was a huge factor in this one.
Payson scored four runs in the top of the third to take a 5-3 lead. However, the Yellow Jackets answered with five runs of their own in the bottom of the frame and ended the game early with a seven-run fifth.
Alan Cerna and RJ Rutler both had two hits to lead the Longhorns, who managed eight hits against starter Devin Chowbig and Josh Jones. Cerna doubles and scored two runs. Jesse Conway, Wade Parton and River Phillis all had a hit and an RBI. Brian Olthoff also singled.
“Alan Cerna and RJ had nice days at the plate,” Young said.
Payson closes the regular season at home against Chino Valley at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. It’ll be their last game for 10 days. They won’t play again until the first round of the state tournament on Friday, May 3 at Surprise Stadium.
The Longhorns will attempt to finish 10-0 at home this season. The team’s seniors will be recognized in a ceremony before the game.
Eric Santana’s State Farm Office will be selling Carne Asada for $8 a plate.
Young said Monday’s loss probably isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a team that gone 13-1 in its previous 14 power points games, with the only loss by a 3-1 score to San Tan Foothills.
“Sometimes a loss at this point is better for us than rolling through some games as we head towards the tournament,” the coach said. “Now, we will just turn our attention towards leaving our seniors on a high note Wednesday.”