Nine-year-old Ridge Halenar could soon be making his third consecutive trip to the state championship round of the Fleer Diamond Skills Baseball Challenge.
The championships -- which pit sectional winners from around the state against one another -- are held annually in Bank One Ball Park hours prior to an Arizona Diamondbacks game.
By winning the Rim country competition, young Halenar earned the right to advance to the sectional championships May 20 at Scottsdale Papago Park.
A win there -- which he has accomplished the past two years -- would send Halenar to a third trip to the state title showdown in June.
Last season, he finished fourth in the 7-to-8-year age group at Bank One.
Arizona state champions in the four age groups advance to the national finals which are held each summer at the site of professional baseball's all-star game.
Halenar's father, Bob -- a former PHS star athlete in baseball and football -- said he's proud of his son's past accomplishments in the Diamond Skills event, but said the real reward is the thrill of competing.
"Winning is nice," his dad said, "but we just want him to do well in this and whatever he does."
One of the highlights of advancing to the state showdown for all the youngsters is the excitement of being special guests of the Diamondbacks and the personal introduction to the crowd in attendance.
In winning the Payson age group crown April 12, Halenar amassed 877 points to edge past runnerup Ryan Kooi who finished with 869.
Other winners who earned the right to compete in the sectional championships include Ashton Shewey -- Halenar's cousin -- in the 13-14-year group.
Shewey finished with 1,224 points to edge Rim Country Middle School eighth grade classmate Brandon Boll by 134 points.
Another of Halenar's cousins, Chandler Sylvester, finished second in the 7-8 year group with 308 points. Aaron Largo won the crown with 408 points.
In the 11-12 year group, Andy Sanders racked up 1,103 points and won among the 18 competitors.
"We had three times as many participants turn out for Diamond Skills this year than last year's competition," Beth Kreider, recreation coordinator, said. "We were quite pleased with the number of registrations."
Other top-five finishers included:
Aaron Largo, 406; Chandler Sylvester, 308; Tyler Wilson, 248; Jaycee Boll, 206; Burke Parker, 202
Ridge Halenar, 877; Ryan Kool, 889; Dino Piazza, 791; Gage Conway, 643; Devin England, 638
Andy Sanders, 1103; Brennon McLaws, 998; Aaron McRae, 894; Mike Daniels, 864; Devin
Ashton Shewey, 1224; Brandon Boll, 1090; Chad McRae, 837; Tanier Klemstein, 714; Carissa