Hopes for the Rim Country's first-ever Little League state championship took a hit July 18 at Shea Middle School, where the Payson all-stars fell 3-1 to Mesa.
The contest was the opener in the 10-11-year-old Arizona finals that drew 14 district champions from around the state.
"We just ran into a very good Mesa team" all-star manager Eddie Duran said.
"Down there, the fast balls are a little faster and you see more curves."
The manager awarded the starting pitching nod to Miguel Mendoza, who hurled a no-hitter in the district tournament and has been most of the season, the mound ace.
Although Mendoza absorbed the loss he "pitched a very good game," Duran said.
During the clash, the Payson stars, who fell behind 3-0, could never generate the high-octane offense that fueled the team during the postseason, when it won several games on the 10-run rule.
"Once, we had the bases loaded with one out and we could only get one run," Duran said.
The loss put a dent in Payson's aspirations for a berth in the tournament's final four, but the Rim stars will have an opportunity to right their listing ship in games July 19 against Douglas/Bisbee and July 24 vs. Arrowhead.
Game time for the showdown against Douglas/Bisbee is 7:45 p.m. and against Arrowhead the start will be 5:30 p.m.
If Payson can rebound to earn a semifinal berth, the game will be played 7 p.m. July 24.
The state championship is set for 7 p.m. the following day.
In those upcoming games, Duran should have the pitching to be competitive with Nick McMullen, Blake Cannon, Daily Carnes and Tyus Sarnowski all capable hurlers.
"We've got to hit the ball," Duran said.
All games are at Shea Middle School.