The road to a berth in the 11-12-year-old (Major Division) Arizona State Little League tournament travels through Winslow.
At least, that’s the opinion of Payson all-star team manager Josh Johnson.
“I don’t know what they put in the water over there, but they turn out some big, strong girls who can really play ball,” he said. “They are always tough.”
It won’t take Johnson and star coach Brandon Moore long to find out just how the Payson players stack up against their rough and tumble Winslow counterparts.
The two teams tip off the post-season tournament at 7 p.m., Tuesday, July 6 at Thorpe Park in Flagstaff.
Payson, Winslow and Flagstaff comprise one division of the tournament, after Holbrook withdrew its star team.
Whichever of the three teams emerges victorious will play the winner of the four-team Division II for the right to advance to state.
Johnson, who led the Aztecs to a 13-1 record and the 9-12-years championship during the regular season, points to consistency and improved play as a team strength of his celestial squad.
“We improved leaps and bounds over what we were the last few years,” he said. “We’ve come a long way.”
Payson has been a member of Arizona Little League fast pitch for only three years, and has spent the past couple of seasons struggling with growing pains
Prior to Little League’s arrival, Payson offered only town-sponsored slow pitch, which, some argued, hindered the development of the young players when they reached middle school and high school softball, which is fast pitch play.
When Payson’s all-star team takes to the Flagstaff field for tournament play, Johnson will have four pitchers with considerable experience to call upon.
They include Karlie Smith, Jewel Johnson, Chloee Connolly and Chelsea Cobb.
“They are not overpowering, but are very consistent,” Johnson said.
The key to success in Flagstaff could be solid defense, base running to go along with the pitching.
“I don’t think we will be scoring a lot of runs, so we have to play (well) both sides of the ball,” said Johnson.
Other members of the all-star team include Becky Bauer, Kallie Kallman, Rachel Knauer, Brittany Proctor, Mishayla Rodgers, Kelsee Stonebrink and Makenna Wells.