Payson Little League 11-12 years All-Star baseball team coach Craig McMullen calls the players, in a show of ultimate respect, “a rag-tag group” who surprised almost everyone with their gutsy, spirited play that led to an Area 1 second-place finish and berth in the District 1 tournament.
Manager Craig Chance agrees, “They surpassed a lot of people’s expectations and represented their town well.”
As determined as the young players were in the postseason, they couldn’t slip past the Show Low All-Stars in the opening round of the D-1 tournament falling 7-6 on July 9 at Rumsey Park.
Since the loss was Payson’s second in the double-elimination area and division tournaments, the defeat eliminated the celestial crew from the postseason.
Probably most difficult for the aspiring young players to deal with was how Show Low was able in the last inning to erase Payson’s 6-5 lead by scoring two runs.
With a runner on at first base, a Show Low Star connected on a two-run home run that nailed down the come-from-behind victory for the boys from Deuce of Clubs.
Payson entered the district tournament as the No. 2 seed from Area 1 pitted against a Show Low team that won its Area championship.
Payson tipped off the postseason July 2 at Rumsey Park with a pulsating 10-9 loss to Holbrook.
In the defeat, the Payson Stars trailed early 9-1, but rallied back to pull within one.
The team, however, could never muster the tying run.
The following day, the team rebounded to beat Winslow 13-6.
In the win, Tanner Gibson started on the hill and pitched five innings before having to depart on Little League’s pitch-count rule.
Gage 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.
After the first two games, McMullen praised 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).”
With the 1-1 record, the team went on to win three more games playing every single day of the tournament.
During the run, on July 7, the Stars turned in possibly the most scintillating game in the tournament, scoring the winning run with two-outs in the bottom of the final inning when Garret Chance lined a single to score Gage Belcher from first to salvage a 17-16 triumph.
Also during the four-game winning streak was a victory over the same Holbrook team that had knocked off Payson in the first round.
With the tournament at an end, Craig Chance predicts a bright future for the young players.
“I think the will go far both in junior high and high school,” he said.
“They are a good group — fun to coach.”