A field of six Payson Little League all-star teams are battling in Flagstaff, Winslow, Show Low and at Rumsey Park for Area 1 titles and the right to advance to District 1 and state championship tournaments.
Among the Rim Country teams, four are baseball squads and two are softball.
All the all-star players were selected in June at the conclusion of the regular season in a voting of coaches.
The best any Payson Little League team has done in a state tournament is tie for third place.
There is, however, at least one local coach who believes his team has the talent and moxie to possibly win the town’s first-ever state crown.
Andre Newell, manager of the 10-11-year-olds softball team is optimistic the girls will advance, mostly because nine of the team members have been involved in Little League fast-pitch since its inception in Payson three years ago.
In the early years of fast-pitch, neighboring programs, like Show Low and Winslow, enjoyed a competitive edge partly because they had fielded teams longer, resulting in more experience.
For years, Payson played recreational slow-pitch rather than fast-pitch.
But now, Rim Country softballers are well versed in the nuances of fast-pitch and are ready to showcase their newfound skills.
“This is our first group that has been with us since we started (fast-pitch),” said Newell. “They are also very strong.”
Newell contends evidence Payson has arrived in the sport first surfaced last summer when the all-star team beat Flagstaff and Blue Ridge in the Area 1 tournament and was on the verge of a win over Winslow before falling in the final innings.
“We should have won it then,” Newell said. “Our goal is to win it this year.”
It’s a given that to win in the sport, a team must have a standout pitcher and the coach believes Payson’s ace Kalea Smith is as good as they come.
He also contends the defense is solid, especially in the infield, and the hitting provided by Kylee O’Donald, Jodi Taylor and Byndee Hall will carry the team through the tournament.
The team begins pursuit of an Area 1 title at 6 p.m. today, Friday, July 6 at Rumsey I against the winner of a first round game between Winslow and Flagstaff.
More Little League action
The 9-10-year-olds all-star softball team, coached by Nick Landress, opens Area 1 tournament play at 4 p.m. today in Show Low against the winner of a Winslow vs. Silver Creek opening clash.
The 13-14-year-olds Little League baseball team plays at 5:30 p.m. today on the Payson Kiwanis field against the winner of a Continental vs. Holbrook first round game.
The 9-10-year-olds baseball team was run-ruled July 3 in Winslow by a very strong West Flagstaff all-star team. Payson’s 10-11-year-olds baseball team was also run-ruled July 2 at Mark Grace Field in Flagstaff by Continental.
The 11-12-year-olds baseball team, managed by Craig Chance and coached by Craig McMullen, opened the postseason July 2 on Rumsey III with a heart-breaking 10-9 loss to Holbrook, but rebounded the following day to defeat Winslow 13-6.
In the loss to Holbrook, the Payson stars trailed early 9-1, but rallied back to pull within one.
In the win over Winslow, Tanner Gibson started on the hill and pitched five innings before having to depart on Little League’s pitch count rule.
Gabe Belcher got the all-stars off and running in the top of the first with a two-out, two-RBI double to left field that pushed Payson’s lead to 3-0.
McMullen praises the team saying, “they have put in a great two weeks of practice and have set a goal of picking each other up and supporting one another during this (tournament).”
He also called the team’s showing vs. Winslow “a complete effort” and says the “players are having a lot of fun.”
McMullen managed the all-star baseball team of four years ago that cruised to Area and District championships before tying for the bronze medal at the state tournament in Cottonwood.
The stars returned to action at 7 p.m. yesterday, July 5, against Tuba City. (Results not available at press time).