The Payson 9-10-year-old Little League softball all-stars have become the second Rim Country team to win two postseason tournament games.
The stars, coached by Eric Smith, Dawn Smith and Nick Landress, chalked up the accomplishment during the Area 1 Little League tournament played July 5 to 8 in Snowflake.
Payson opened the fray with an 8-6 win over Blue Ridge, but the following day dropped an 11-10 decision to Winslow. On July 7, Payson remained in the chase for an Area championship by edging Flagstaff 9-8.
Aspirations for a tournament title came to a screeching halt July 8 with a 7-5 loss to Show Low.
The all-stars’ 2-2 record pleased Eric Smith partly because the only other Payson Little League softball team to ever win a postseason tournament game occurred just weeks ago when the 11-12-year-old squad captured two Ws in Holbrook.
“I think we did well, we won two games and the other two (lost) were both by less than two runs,” Smith said.
In the loss to Show Low that eliminated Payson from the tournament, the White Mountain stars took a 3-0 lead in the third, but Payson rallied in the fourth to tie the crucial showdown at 3-3.
The rally, Smith said, was kick-started on three successive hits by Chanci Landress, Kylee O’Donald and Kalea Smith-Quick.
Just two batters later, “Lauren Murray added another hit scoring the runners,” Smith said.
With the score dead-knotted, the game was stopped for about 30 minutes for a rain delay. When play resumed, Show Low pushed four runs across the plate and Payson responded with a single run. Entering the sixth and final inning, SL led 7-4.
The Rim Country stars tacked on a single run to pull within 7-5, but the brief rally was too little, too late.
In the tournament opening win over Blue Ridge, Payson jumped out 2-1 and 3-2 after two innings, but the Lakeside stars roared back to take a 5-4 cushion at the conclusion of five innings.
In the top of the sixth, Payson tallied four runs to take a lead that BR could never overcome.
Smith credited the win to “great pitching from Lauren Murray.”
Quick-Fuller also hurled in the victory.
On July 6 against Winslow, Payson’s future looked bright in the third inning when the local stars built an 8-4 lead thanks in part to stellar pitching from starter Bryndee Hall who struck out the first three batters she faced.
“She gave us the early momentum and the lead,” said Smith.
But then “Old Mo” turned fickle switching sides after Winslow coaches opted for a new strategy.
“Winslow then changed pitchers to try to stop us from scoring,” said Smith. “They were able to take an 9-8 lead after four innings and 10-8 at the end of the fifth.”
In the top of the sixth, the gutsy Payson stars tied the game at 10-10 and only needed to hold Winslow scoreless in the bottom of the frame to force extra innings.
But a tie was not to be as Winslow scored to nail down the one-run victory.
Following the game, Smith praised Bryndee Hall for “a clutch two-out hit that tied the game in the sixth inning.”
He also lauded Jodi Taylor’s “terrific over the shoulder catch in the fifth to keep runners from scoring; which kept us in the game.”
Against Flagstaff on July 7, Payson was victorious thanks to Arielle O’Conner’s walk off a base hit in the bottom of the sixth that scored Jenna Smith from third with the winning run. Only minutes earlier, the inning opened with the score tied 8-8 and Smith set to bat.
After singling, Smith advanced to third on a base hit by O’Donald, which set up O’Conner’s heroics.
For Payson, Bryndee Hall got the starting pitching nod from Smith and held Flagstaff scoreless in the first inning.
After three innings, Payson led 3-2.
“Good pitching and good defense kept the scoring low, until both teams found their hitting groove in the fourth and fifth innings,” Smith said.
The coach also credited Murray and Smith-Quick, who both pitched in relief, for their contributions in keeping Flagstaff at bay.