Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic snapped Payson’s streak of qualifying for the state baseball tournament for seven consecutive seasons.
But that doesn’t count, since there wasn’t a tournament as the season was shut down soon after it started.
A roster dominated by youth tried to extend the streak this year but that looks unlikely as Payson carried the #24 ranking into Friday’s game at Snowflake.
The 3A state tournament field shrank from 24 in 2019 (no tournament last year) to 16 this season, which means the Longhorns likely won’t qualify for the first time since 2012. Ending a seven-year streak of qualifying for the state tournament.
But the Longhorns aren’t throwing in the towel. They bounced back from a 2-1 loss to #7 Phoenix Northwest Christian at home on Wednesday, April 28 to knock off the #13 Lobos (11-6) 7-6 on Friday, April 30.
The loss ended Snowflake’s bid for the 3A East championship. The Lobos needed to beat the Longhorns in that game and tonight’s 6 o’clock regular season finale at Payson to slip past Winslow in the final standings.
But the Longhorns’ victory wrapped up the title for Winslow. The Bulldogs finished 9-3 in the region. Show Low finished 8-4. Snowflake is 7-4, Blue Ridge 7-5 and Payson 6-5.
The Longhorns (9-10 overall) can finish in a three-way tie for third with Snowflake and Blue Ridge, although Blue Ridge would likely win a tiebreaker in that instance.
Payson coach Brian Young was happy to see his boys win in Snowflake.
“It was a really good win for us on the road in the region,” he said.
“That was a big step of growth to be able to do that. We had only beaten Alchesay and Holbrook in the region on the road. We weren’t as clean as we were against NWC, but we hung in again through some tough defensive situations.”
Payson led 4-0 after two innings and 5-3 after the fifth but Snowflake tied it with two in the sixth.
The Longhorns broke the tie with a two-run seventh. The Lobos got one back but came up a run short.
“We got a lead, lost it, and hung in there and were able to score again,” Young said. “In the past, we lost momentum and couldn’t regain it. Those are all really good signs that our team has grown tremendously.”
Logan Plain and Caleb Marinelli each had two of Payson’s nine hits. Chance Hagler and Mark Petefish both singled and drove in a run. Plain also had an RBI.
Dexter Waterman stole three bases and scored three runs.
Jace O’Connor and Jeremy Chavez combined to limit the Lobos to five hits and one earned run. Five Snowflake runs were unearned thanks to three Payson errors. They combined to strike out 12 Lobos but also issued nine walks.
“I don’t think we have any chance at making the state tournament,” Young said. “I’m pretty upset about it being for only 16 teams instead of the usual 24. I have heard its because basketball only got 16 due to COVID(-19). That is fine except basketball played a season last year and we didn’t. Tell my two seniors that we couldn’t be included because it wasn’t fair to basketball after they lost their junior years. I hate it for those two guys. They have hung in there while our young team has grown and have been instrumental in helping younger guys. I’m glad we are ending on a positive note and we really need to send them out as winners on senior night.”