Payson Little Leaguers Competing In State Championship

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A pair of Payson Little Leaguers will soon realize the dream of many young players -- to compete on a major-league diamond in front of thousands of admiring fans.

Nick McMullen and Westin Gibson will do so June 11 at Arizona Diamondbacks Chase Field where they will compete in the Arizona State Pepsi Pitch, Hit and Run Championships.

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Little Leaguer Westin Gibson shows the hitting form that helped him advance to the Pepsi Pitch, Hit and Run state championship. The finals will be June 11 at Chase Field in Phoenix.

McMullen will be entered in the 9- to 10-year-old age division and Gibson will compete with the 11- and 12-year-olds.

In the Payson Little League major division, McMullen is a starring member of the Diamondbacks and Gibson is a standout for the Cubs.

"Yes, we do have a rivalry," McMullen said.

Both boys were also members of last year's Payson Little League All-Star teams.

The two qualified for the Pepsi state championships by winning age group titles at both local and sectional Pitch, Hit and Run competitions.

The Payson showdown was contested April 19 at Rumsey Park.

The sectional was held May 13 at Rhoades Baseball Complex in Mesa.

McMullen excels in all three Pepsi events but might be better at hitting.

"I like to hit, I do it best," he said.

Gibson created quite a stir last spring when, on Little League's opening day, he predicted -- in true Babe Ruth style -- that he was going to slug a home run.

He told family members he was doing so in memory of his younger brother, "Baby Slade" Gibson, who died Oct. 19, 2003 at 18 months of age.

The young player's heartfelt dedication and resulting home run, just as he predicted, tugged at the heartstrings of many of those in attendance, including his mother, Becky.

"It was very emotional for us," she said. "He told us he was going to (hit the home run), but we just didn't know he was going to do it so soon."

The events

At the local, sectional, state and national Pepsi competitions, entrants are awarded points based on their performances in the three basic skills of baseball -- pitching, hitting and running.

In pitching, players throw six pitches off the mound at a target about 50 feet away. Points are awarded on accuracy of the pitches.

In hitting, batters hit a designated number of baseballs off a tee. Points are awarded for distance and accuracy.

In the run event, athletes are timed running from second base, around third, and to home.

If either Payson athlete wins the state title, he will earn the right to advance to the national championship.

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