Payson’s Little League Softball Diamondbacks tuned up for post-season play by hosting the pitching-rich Blue Ridge team in a recent spirited doubleheader played at Rumsey Park.
Traditionally, intra-town or intra-program games are not played during the regular season, but local Little League official Felicia Moore says, “When Blue Ridge called and wanted to know if one of our teams could play them, we said ‘yes’ because our all-star team will soon play (in the post season) and we needed to get the girls some good competition.”
The Diamondbacks received the struggle they were scrambling for as visiting BR swept the doubleheader 9-7 and 19-10.
Despite falling in both games, the Payson team gave a good accounting of itself pushing BR to the limit, especially in the opener when the Diamondbacks jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the fourth inning.
“Then Blue Ridge put in their top pitcher and came back to win,” said Moore.
For Payson, Karlie Smith — probably the best pitcher in Payson Little League softball — started and went the distance.
“She pitched her heart out,” said Moore.
Offensively, Smith contributed a double.
The Payson ace also pitched the second game that was highlighted by Savannah Conway’s grand slam home run.
“Karlie pitched 10 innings between both games, where Blue Ridge used five pitchers in both games,” said Moore. “The girls played hard, hustled and hit really well in both games.”
The Diamondbacks, coached by Brandon Moore and Bret Morse, were selected to represent Payson in the doubleheader because the team was 12-0 during the regular season.
For the games, however, the roster was supplemented by the addition of Hannah Bix and Kylee Egbert from other teams because, “we wanted to make sure we had enough players,” said Moore.
Following the doubleheader, Moore called both clashes, “a good reality check on how important pitching is in this game.”
She also says that Payson Little League is “working hard to bring the girls up to the same pitching levels as other programs.”
Before the Payson Little League founded its fast-pitch program three years ago, local youth players had only town-sponsored slow pitch softball in which to participate.
There are those in sports circles who believe Payson fell behind other towns and programs during that stint because there was no program to hone fast-pitch pitchers.
Former Lady Longhorn coach Curtis Johnson is leading the movement to now teach fast pitch to fledgling players by hosting local clinics on the nuances and techniques of underhand pitching
“Karlie started working with him three years ago and it shows on the mound,” said Moore. “During the winter, she was up at 5:30 a.m. and in the Tonto (Apache) gym pitching — she knows what it takes to be successful.
“Girls need to practice pitching year-round.”
Tournament, clinic on deck
With the regular season at an end, a trio of Payson all-star teams will turn their attention to post-season area and district play.
Action in the 11-12-year-old tournament begins June 27 in Holbrook.
Payson’s 9-10-year-old team springs into action July 5 at Silver Creek near Show Low, and the junior team begins pursuit of tournament honors July 7 in Flagstaff.
In addition to tournament play, Moore is encouraging fledgling players to register now for an upcoming skills clinic to be led by former Arizona State University stars Brittney Matta and Renee Welty.
The clinic, to be held June 25 and 26, will feature two practice sessions.
Payson Little League minor division players are scheduled to practice 8 a.m. to noon and major division players train from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Both sessions are at Rumsey Park.
Registration fee is $75 per player, which Moore calls “a great deal for the girls; normally something like this would cost $250.”
A special one-hour session for pitching instruction will be available for an additional $30.
To register for the camp or for more information, call Moore at (928) 476-5440, or Tara Fuller at (928) 595-0737.