Payson’s 10-11-year-olds Little League all-star team is one of 14 star squads advancing to the Arizona State Tournament to be played July 21 to 28 in Nogales.
There, the Payson celestial squad will represent District One, a title the team won July 9 in Pinetop-Lakeside.
In the District finale on July 9, Payson edged Flagstaff Continental, 4-2, in a game local Little League President Slade Gibson called “a dogfight.”
The championship skirmish was the third time the two teams met in the postseason. In the first game, which opened the District tournament, Continental survived 3-1.
Although the loss dropped Payson into the losers bracket of the double-elimination fray, the Rim stars refused to be dismayed.
“These kids have a lot of heart, they never say die,” said team manager Ty Goodman.
Relegated to the lower bracket, Payson battled back with four consecutive wins to reach the championship round.
However, because Payson was once beaten and Continental undefeated, the Rim Country team had to win back-to-back games to nail down the elusive District title.
Payson’s boys of summer did just what needed to be done.
In the first showdown, on July 8, Payson slipped past Continental 5-4 thanks in part to the relief pitching efforts of Daren Kaufman.
Kaufman came on in the fifth inning in relief of starter Bryce Goodman and with no outs and the bases loaded, struck out three consecutive Continental batters.
In the next inning, Continental had the tying run on at second, the winning run at first and the No. 2, 3 and clean-up batters set to hit.
Kaufman responded to the pressure by once again striking out three straight Flagstaff batters to preserve the one-run win.
The win propelled Payson into the tournament’s “if” game with star hurler Taran Sarnowski rested and ready to pitch.
As Kaufman had done a day earlier, Sarnowski responded with a pressure-packed performance.
“He struck out their best hitter, a big left-handed kid, three times,” Ty Goodman said.
However, late in the game, Goodman and coach Noah Sarnowski brought in Ruben Estrada to relieve.
He stepped up by shutting out Continental for 1 1/2 innings preserving the precarious two-run lead Payson had built.
Offensively, the Rim stars were on fire early, scoring three runs in the first on an extra base blast by Daniel Woolwine that hit the bottom of the outfield fence and singles by Bryce Goodman and Taryn Sarnowski.
Payson scored an insurance run on the third on Sarnowski’s steal of home.
Prior to the onset of the tournament, Ty Goodman predicted that his team had the potential to win the District tournament and become just the fourth Payson team to earn a state berth.
The players proved his prediction on target by posting a 6-1 record against all-star teams from the White Mountains, Flagstaff and Winslow.
Now, it’s on to Nogales.