The Payson Little League Minor Division (9-10-years) All-Stars played their way to a 2-2 record and a fourth-place finish in the Area 1 tournament July 7 to 12 in Winslow.
The stars -- coached by Tom Belcher who led the Cubs to the regular season championship with a 12-4 record --pened tournament play with a 5-4 victory over Flagstaff Continental.
In the second round, Payson dropped a 12-2 decision to the homestanding Winslow team that went on to win the tournament.
Relegated to the loser's bracket, Payson remained alive with a 24-9 victory over the Flagstaff stars.
Payson's dream of reaching the championship ended in a 15-13 loss to Mount Elden.
Following the tournament, Belcher praised the all-stars for their spirited play against top-notch competition.
"The kids played hard. They gave it a great effort," he said.
The coach also called Payson's tournament-opening win over Flagstaff Continental the most exciting of the postseason clash.
With the game tied at 4-4 and Payson batting in the bottom of the sixth and final inning, Cameron Geske swatted a clutch two-out RBI single that nailed down the victory.
Jake Sleeper, a member of the Pirates during the regular season, earned the victory, hurling six full frames.
Payson's 10-run loss to powerful Winslow turned into a controversial showdown that saw play stopped several times for rules interpretation. For Payson, Geske earned the starting pitching nod and was forced to absorb the loss.
Payson's lambasting of Flagstaff Continental was fueled by Dorian Rensch's hitting. In four appearances, Rensch had a bases-loaded triple, a single, two walks and scored four runs.
Also in Payson's 18-hit attack, Randy Jones tallied a single, double and scored four runs.
Sleeper started on the mound and hurled the entire game that was shorted to four innings on the 10-run rule.
"Jake pitched two complete games and both were wins," Belcher said.
Payson's two-run loss to Flagstaff Mount Elden turned into a case of missed opportunities.
Leading 12-7 in the top of the sixth inning, the Payson stars were only three outs away from a victory. But, the Rim Little Leaguers couldn't deal the knockout punch that would have kept them alive in the tournament.
Aided by five Payson errors, Elden scored eight runs in the frame to assume a 15-12 lead.
In Payson's final at-bat, the team scored one run and had the tying runs on at first and second. But with two outs, Payson's final hitter grounded out to shortstop to end any hopes of a game-winning rally.
The losing pitcher, Joshua Bane, turned in a solid effort but was hampered by Payson's defense.
"He pitched great ... should have won," Belcher said.
For Belcher, the all-star experience was nothing new. A Little League coach the past six years, he's been selected to coach an all-star team on five occasions. Four of those teams represented the senior division (13-14 years).
Following the team's return to Payson, an appreciative Belcher thanked assistant coaches Gary Richardson and Eddie Duran, scorekeeper Kim Sleeper and all the parents for their support of the team.