Cats Claw To Gold In Fountain Hills

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By winning the Great Senior Softball tournament, the Payson Cougars slow-pitch softball team pulled off the upset of the state's 60-years-plus sports scene.

The Rim country cats entered the Feb. 26 fray in Fountain Hills as the underdogs mostly because the team did not win a game in the Veterans Day Classic four months earlier and had won fewer than half of their regular season games.

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The Payson Cougars senior softball team opened the Great Senior Softball tournament in Fountain Hills with two losses but rebounded to win its next three and the championship of the tournament.

"Yes, we were extreme underdogs," new Cougars manager/ player Abe "Skipper" Yamada said. Yamada has taken over the team after longtime local senior softball player Dave Crowell stepped aside to devote more time to his new passion of dwarf car racing.

The Payson seniors, undaunted by their lowly status, rose to the tournament occasion compiling a 3-2 record and winning the "60's division" championship.

The tournament triumph, however, didn't come easily or quickly.

Payson opened on a sour note losing 13-1 to Yuma 60. The game was so lopsided that it was called off after five innings on the 10-run mercy rule. In a second-round game, the Cougars improved offensively and defensively, but fell 15-10 to the Tucson Cowboys.

The loss, however, didn't discourage the new manager who told the team they were playing great defense but the offense was lacking.

"We needed to converge in our hitting game to win the next game and stay alive," Yamada said.

On the verge of a third loss and elimination from the tournament, the Cougars clawed their way back into contention with a 16-14 win over the Analgesic Bombs.

"We bounced out of the chute, took a lead in the second inning and never looked back," Yamada said.

With the win and a fourth-place seed, the Cougars qualified for the following day's play -- a four-team, single-elimination shoot-out.

Action opened with the Cougars once again pitted against the Analgesic Bombs. The Rim seniors defused the Bombs, 15-10.

According to Yamada, the seniors won "with great defense and batting skills."

The victory earned Payson a berth in the championship game against Yuma 60, the same team that had humbled them in the tournament opener.

"We had fire in our eyes remembering the 13-1 loss," Yamada said.

According to Yamada, the gold medal clash drew plenty of enthusiastic spectators and family members.

"The playing field became a crescendo challenge with women on both sides of the bleachers cheering for their husbands," Yamada said. "It was exhilarating."

In a see-saw game, Payson finally forged out a 13-10 lead entering the final frame.

"Yuma had a last chance to take it all home," Yamada said. "But our defense refused to bend."

Yamada lauded his players for their gritty determination.

"They never gave up, even when the opposing teams were ahead," he said. " I have played on other good teams in my lifetime, but this team has great heart and are a great bunch of guys."

Yamada also praised the wives for their contributions.

"I give a lot of credit to them for their everlasting support," he said.

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