Payson All-Stars Shine In Cottonwood

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"Juggernaut" might be the best term to use in describing the efforts of the Payson Little League All-Stars during postseason play.

On the way to an 8-0 record, the powerhouse crew has outscored its opponents by a whopping 146-11 margin and has won all its games on the 10-run mercy rule.

After winning Area One and Division One championships the team kicked off pursuit of the town's first-ever state title July 20 in Cottonwood. In the opening round, the Rim Country celestial crew easily dispatched of Tucson Pantano, 13-0, in five innings.

The following day, Payson blasted Casa Grande 15-0 in four frames. Next to fall victim to the hard charging Payson stars was Blythe, Calif., by a 12-2 margin.

Coach Craig McMullen and the stars returned to Cottonwood yesterday, Monday, for a 5 p.m. clash against host Verde Valley which had a 1-2 record in state action.

Payson wraps up pool play July 25 vs. Lookout Mountain and July 26 vs. Sabino.

As play began yesterday, Monday, Lookout Mountain, a Phoenix area all-star team was 3-0 and Sabino 4-0.

"Those are the tough teams we have to get by," McMullen said. "But, we have a lot of confidence."

If Payson emerges one of the top two teams in pool play, which has been a team goal since the onset of the state showdown, it would advance to the state semifinals July 28.

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

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Little League All-Star Nick McMullen slams this pitch and watches it as it takes off for the outfield.

All tournament games are being played at Riverfront Park in Cottonwood.

The strategy

Throughout the tournament, McMullen has been juggling his pitching rotation to keep his hurlers fresh and to be sure they meet Little League rules on the number of innings a player is allowed to pitch.

In the opening round win over Pantano, Nick McMullen -- the coach's son -- and Blake Cannon shared pitching duties.

In whipping Casa Grande, Chris Cooper hurled two innings before giving way to Chance Randall and Daily Carnes who hurled one inning each.

Against Blythe, Nick Mullen and Cannon combined for a one-hitter.

For yesterday's clash, Craig McMullen said he would probably start Miguel Mendoza and have Cooper, Randall and Carnes in relief.

The manager's goal, he said, was to reach the tournament semifinals "with some fresh arms."

Offensively, the Payson team features several top-notch hitters, but it has been the bat of Zack Wolf that has produced runs when needed.

"He always seems to come up the with clutch hits," McMullen said.

Defensively, Carnes has drawn plaudits for his play at shortstop, second base and in center field.

McMullen also stressed that the team's success in the state fray has been a total team effort in which each individual player has carried his share of the load.

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