Payson's hopes for a berth in the 11-12-year-old Little League state tournament hinge on the outcome of a crucial District showdown against Blue Ridge.
The game was played at 7 p.m. Monday in Snowflake (Results not available at press time).
If Payson emerged victorious over Blue Ridge, a second "if" game would be played this evening at 7 p.m., also in Snowflake.
Payson needs a pair of wins over Blue Ridge to advance to state, because the Rim stars lost 10-9 to the Pinetop-Lakeside team July 13 in the opening round of the district finals.
Both Payson and Blue Ridge entered that game as area champions with 3-0 records.
After losing to Pinetop-Lakeside, the Payson stars rebounded the following evening to beat Show Low 6-5 and set up last evening's showdown against the White Mountain champs.
In the gut-wrenching, one-run loss to Blue Ridge, Payson hopes were alive and well, entering the bottom of the sixth.
Blue Ridge, however, got the winning run aboard and around to second base with one out against them.
Minutes later, a sacrifice fly to left field was gloved by Payson outfielder Ray Lott, but his throw to home plate was too late to catch the Blue Ridge base runner.
For Payson, Dylan Richardson opened on the hill and, according to coach John Schreur, turned in a solid game.
"He pitched really well for us," Schreur said.
Richardson was relieved in the fourth by Justin Cobb.
In whipping Show Low, the Payson stars wiped away the heartbreak of defeat well enough to stay alive in the postseason.
The game, however, wasn't without sheer drama.
In the bottom of the sixth, with Payson clinging to a precarious one-run lead, Show Low pushed the tying run to third base.
But with two outs, relief pitcher Cole Belcher responded to the challenge by striking out the Show Low hitter.
As tense as the atmosphere is in the showdowns in Snowflake, the Payson players are reveling in the competition,
"They are having fun, playing well and are really excited," Schreur said.
Payson captured the Area 1 championship July 11 in Flagstaff, with an 8-5 win over the Page All-Stars.
In the victory, Brady O'Donald got the starting pitching call from manager Tom Belcher and hurled three innings before giving way to Cole Belcher, who struck out 10 in four innings.
As good as the pitching was, it was the "D" that drew the manager's praise.
"Once again, our defense was great with only one error," he said.
Offensively, Payson's nine-hit attack was fueled by Cole Belcher and O'Donald. Both hit home runs.
Gunner Goodman drew praise from Tom Belcher for his gutsy plate performance in which he
fouled off three pitches, after being behind in the count 0-3, to eventually be hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
The run gave Payson a lead it never relinquished.