The Payson 13- and 14-year-old “Junior” Little League All-Star baseball team advances to the state tournament clutching Area 1 and District 1 championships, but could meet a rugged foe in the squad’s opening game.
The Payson Stars play at 8 p.m. today at Prescott High School against the winner of an opening-round tournament game played yesterday at Kuebler Field in Prescott.
The tournament opener pitted the Gilbert All-Stars against Chandler National, a program that once sent a team to the finals of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. where it played in front of ESPN cameras.
Over the years, Chandler has also produced several other outstanding Little League teams.
As good as the survivor of the Chandler vs. Gilbert clash might be, the nine members of the Payson All-Star team are expected to be formidable, having advanced through the area and region tournaments undefeated and having beaten every opponent on the 10-run “mercy” rule.
The players are also a seasoned and experienced group, having won area and district championships as 10- and 11-year-olds.
The group also once formed a so-called “traveling team” journeying to the Valley area for games.
Much of the success of the team can be attributed to solid pitching, sound defense and stellar hitting.
Taran Sarnowski, David Evans and Rueben Estrada have supplied much of the pitching prowess. C.J. Adcock, Evans, Sarnowski and Estrada have been among the team’s leading hitters.
“The team has a batting average of .570,” said All-Star manager Tony McNeeley. “Sarnowski leads with an average of .890.”
Defensively, infielder Evans has drawn praise from McNeeley for his play at third base.
The Payson Stars have proven to be an elite group, even though there are only the minimum nine players on the roster. And that means, if a player is injured or comes up ill and cannot play, the team has no replacements.
The lack of reserves doesn’t seem to bother McNeeley, who contends the team’s success is due “to the character of all the boys.
“They have a tremendous work ethic and are a tight unit.”
If Payson wins tonight, the team advances to a third-round game at 8 p.m. July 19 at Prescott High School.
If Payson loses, it would return to action the same date and time at Kuebler Field in Prescott.
Competing in the state tournament along with Payson, Chandler (D-13) and Gilbert (D-14), are district championship teams from Goodyear (D-2), Paradise Valley (D-3), Western (D-5), McCormick (D-6), Mesa American (D-7), Yuma (D-9), Prescott Valley (D-10), San Carlos (D-11) and Tucson American (D-12).
District champions from D-4 and D-8 had not been named by press time.