A pair of Payson Little League all-star teams is advancing to district tournaments with hopes of eventually reaching the prestigious state showdown.
Both Rim Country qualifiers, the 9-10-years and the 12-year-old teams, advance as undefeated Area 1 champions and will play the yet-to-be-determined Area 2 title winners.
The 9-10-years team will open July 7 in Taylor and the 12-years all-star team will return to Winslow where the Area 1 tournament was held. The squad opened district play last evening, July 3.
If either team can emerge victorious from district battles, they would earn the right to represent District 1 in the state Little League championship series.
The 9-10-year-olds sewed up the area title June 30 at Rumsey Park with an 8-3 win over Continental.
In the opening two rounds of the postseason, Payson received a forfeit from Page and beat Mt. Elden 14-6.
In whipping Continental, Payson relied on the stellar pitching of Taran Sarnowski, who might be the all-stars' mound ace even though he was not tapped by manager Denver White and coach Ty Goodman to pitch in the opening game.
"We decided we wanted to save him," Goodman said.
Sarnowski dominated on the hill before giving way in the final inning to reliever Ryan Ricke.
Offensively, White and Goodman cited Austin Gibson, Bryce Goodman and Ricke for their contributions.
Bryce Goodman and Gibson, who both played for the Nationals in the regular season, were 2-for-3 at the plate. One of Bryce Goodman's hits was a double.
Ricke, who played for the minor league Rockies during the year, also had two hits.
"It was an amazing game, the kids played well," White said. "If we can win two more games, we go to state, and that's our goal."
While the younger all-stars were easily rolling to victory, the 12-year-old squad, probably the most talented and experienced team Payson has ever fielded, was fighting for its baseball life.
Although Payson survived 6-5, the Rim crew was trailing 5-2 to homestanding Winslow in the bottom of the fifth. In the frame, Payson scored two runs to close the Winslow lead to a single run, 5-4.
With two outs and runners at second and third, Miguel Mendoza hit a clutch triple that drove in both the tying and winning runs.
"It was an unbelievable game, very exciting" manager Brent Cannon said.
In addition to Mendoza's game-winning hit, hit, he came on in the second inning, in relief of starting pitcher Chance Randall, to chalk up the win.
"Miguel was a big reason we won," Cannon said.
Randall continued his postseason offensive onslaught hitting an over-the-fence home run.
Throughout the game, questionable officiating that seemed to put a crimp in potential rallies, frustrated Payson players and coaches.
Cannon and coach Craig McMullen can't publicly criticize the umpires, but some in the stands were more than a bit puzzled by some calls.
In earlier tournament games in Winslow, Payson beat Continental 10-0 and Coconino 14-1.
In Little League junior division action in Page, Payson was eliminated after losing 22-1 to Winslow and 8-5 to Page.
Payson's Little League fast pitch softball all-star teams will open pursuit of postseason honors July 7.
The 10-11-years softball team will travel to Flagstaff for tournament play. The 11-12-years crew will be in action in Taylor.