A pair of the finest major division Little League teams in small town Arizona, Payson and Blue Ridge, squared off toe-to-toe in the District One championships.
When the dust finally settled, July 15 on Mark Grace Field in Flagstaff, Blue Ridge claimed top honors and the right to advance to the state tournament as the district champion.
Blue Ridge won the title by virtue of a hard fought 3-0 victory in the gold medal finale for 11- and 12-year-olds.
In winning, the White Mountain crew scored all three of its runs in the top of the sixth after the two teams were scoreless through five complete frames.
Westin Gibson, the Payson mound ace, absorbed the loss but turned in, what manager Ty Goodman called, " a great pitching effort."
"They (Blue Ridge) had their ace going, a lefty, and we had ours," he said. "That helped make it a great game."
The second game championship finale was set up a day earlier by Payson's 8-7 win over Blue Ridge also at Mark Grace field.
In the Rim team's victory, Jake Sleeper picked up a complete game win.
Gunner Goodman scored the winning run in the bottom of the sixth on a bases loaded hit.
The loss was Blue Ridge's first in the tournament. Payson entered the tournament with one loss having dropped a 2-1 heartbreaker to Winslow in the second round of the Area One tournament at Mark Grace field.
Following that loss, the team strung together six straight wins before dropping the title game to Blue Ridge.
"The kids show a lot of heart in that run," Goodman said.
In the Area One tournament, Payson opened with a convincing 12-5 win over Flagstaff. Gibson paced the team to the victory hurling a four-hitter and blasting two home runs.
In the next game, the Payson cause took a direct hit with the narrow loss to Winslow.
Payson came roaring back with a 13-3 win over Mt. Elden and a 6-2 thumping of Page.
In the battle for second place and a seed into the district championships, Payson shut out Flagstaff Continental 6-0.
In all three of those duels, the Payson stars played with their backs against the wall. A loss would have meant the end of the season and the demise of the players' goal to play in the state tournament.
In the showdown against Continental, Gibson once again turned in an exceptional performance hurling the complete game victory and slugging a two-run home run in the first inning.
Leading 2-0, Payson tacked on four insurance runs in the fourth inning on two walks, a bunt and Gibson's double.
Following Payson's elimination, Goodman said he would like to thank his assistant coaches and the parents who supported the team throughout its pursuit of a berth to state.
"Everyone did so much for the team and the kids (responded) with a great effort," he said.
The loss to Blue Ridge marked the second successive year that the Payson Major Division all-stars have dropped the championship finale to BR. Last year, when the team was managed by Eddie Duran, Payson fell 12-0 to Blue Ridge in the gold medal round.
-- To reach Max Foster call 474-5251 ext. 114 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.