For seven players and two coaches on the Payson 10-11-year-old Little League All-Star team, the Arizona state tournament represents a chance to erase some of the disappointment of the 2006 season.
Those young athletes and their coaches were members of last year's All-Star team that won area and district championships before being eliminated from the state finals in a highly controversial tiebreaker that involved "runs allowed per defensive inning."
Payson finished with a tie-breaking ratio of .908, but did not advance to the final four, because Tucson Sabino, a team Payson had beaten in the tournament, posted a ratio of .933.
The team's elimination seemed an injustice, partly because the All-Stars were dominant in the postseason, outscoring opponents by a 177-37 margin.
Payson eventually was awarded fifth-place honors in the state, but they continue to be widely considered the Rim Country's finest-ever Little League team.
The members on that celestial squad who are on this year's star team include Konner Duran, Tyus Sarnowski, Nick McMullen, Chance Randall, Miguel Mendoza, Blake Cannon and Dailey Carnes.
In 2006, the manager was Craig McMullen and the coach was Brent Cannon. Both are assistant coaches on this year's team, managed by Eddie Duran.
The state chase
The All-Stars opened pursuit of a state tournament at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Shea Middle School in Phoenix against Mesa.
The team also plays:
- July 18 @ 7:45 p.m. vs. South Tucson
- July 19 @ 7:45 p.m. vs. Douglas/Bisbee
- July 23 @ 5:30 p.m. vs. Arrowhead
If the team qualifies for the final four, based on the results of the four pool games, Payson would play at 7 p.m. July 24.
The championship game is slated for 7 p.m. the following day. All games are to be played at Shea Middle School.
In winning area and district titles during postseason action that began June 29 in Show Low, Payson finished with a 3-1 record, losing only a 7-1 decision to Flagstaff.
Following the tournament semifinal loss to Flagstaff, Payson came roaring back the following day to dump Flagstaff in five innings, on the 10-run mercy rule.
The highlight of the area and district tournament might have been a near-perfect game gem hurled by Mendoza.
In a June 30 opening round win over Flagstaff, the Payson Pepsi Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit and Run champion hurled a no-hit shutout and came within a single walk of a perfect game.
During his four-inning stint on the hill, he faced 13 hitters, which is one over the minimum.
The victory was also highlighted by a grand slam home run hit by Cannon.