State Hopefuls Play Eight Games In Nine Days

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A Herculean task awaits the Payson Little League All-Stars.

It includes playing eight state tournament road games over the course of nine days.

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The Payson Minor Division all-star team opened its pursuit of a state championship last evening, July 20, in Cottonwood.

That type of grueling and demanding schedule is usually taken on only by professional ballplayers.

Pursuit of the elusive state honors began at 5 p.m. last evening, Thursday, in Cottonwood. (Results not available at press time).

Payson's first round opponent was Pantano, a Tucson-area Little League team.

In the tournament, the 14 district champions from around the state were divided into two pools of seven teams each that will play round robins.

Payson is aligned in Pool A along with Lookout Mountain, Casa Grande American, Sabino Canyon, Blythe, California, Verde Valley and Pantano.

In Pool B are Sidewinder, McCormick Ranch, Mesa Eastern, Nogales, Kearny, Chandler National and Gilbert National.

Payson plays pool games July 21 (7:30 p.m. vs. Casa Grande American), July 22 (7:30 p.m. vs. Blythe), July 24 (5 p.m. vs. Pantano), July 25 (7:30 p.m. vs. Lookout Mountain) and July 26 (5 p.m. vs. Sabino Canyon).

If Payson emerges one of the top two teams in pool play, it would advance to the tournament semifinals July 27.

A victory there would push Payson into the state championship at 6 p.m. July 28.

All state games will be played at Riverfront Park in Cottonwood.

"It is a three field softball complex. So, we'll be building (pitching) mounds and putting up fences," tournament director Sonny Zale said.

Concessions stands will be open and Zale is advising fans and parents to bring folding chairs because the built-in bleachers "are not real comfortable."

In case of rainouts, makeup games will be played July 23.

Opening ceremonies, which all players attended in uniform, were held July 19.

The Rim stars

Payson all-star manager Craig McMullen said, before departing for Cottonwood, he would probably tap both Blake Cannon and Nick McMullen to start on the hill in the opener.

The starting rotation in other games would depend upon opponents and situations.

Whichever pitcher he starts, he will probably be formidable as the roster is laden with hurlers who starred for their teams during the regular season.

Each hurler the manager has started, responded with a complete game victory.

In addition to Nick McMullen and Cannon, the manager can call upon Chris Cooper, who is 2-0 in the postseason, or Miguel Mendoza who hurled a no-hitter in the district tournament.

Offensively, hard hitting Chance Randall paced the stars in the area and district tournaments swatting three home runs.

With Randall and several other outstanding hitters in the lineup, Craig McMullen is confident the team can score runs.

His confidence might be based on the crew's accomplishments during the postseason when Payson posted a 5-0 record by outscoring its opponents 97-9.

The team also enters the state finals armed with plenty of playing experience having participated in last year's Arizona showdown.

"I think, having been there will help us," McMullen said.

-- To reach Max Foster call 474-5251 ext. 114 or e-mail mfoster@payson.com.

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