A spunky group of 10- and 11-year-old softball All-Stars left Payson Sunday morning, July 15, bound for Benson and dreaming of winning the town’s first Little League state championship.
The girls, managed by Andrew Newell and coached by Tara Smith, earned a state seed by virtue of winning both the Area 1 and District 1 championships. The stars played a state first-round game last evening, July 16, at Lion’s Park in Benson against Queen Creek, the District 14 champions. (Results not available at press time).
If the team makes it to the championship, as is their goal, they would play the finale at 7 p.m. July 19 at Lion’s Park.
In preparing the young players for their first shot at a state crown, Newell practiced the pitchers and catchers each morning and in the evening held full-time practices and scrimmages.
“I think they are ready to go,” Newell said. “They are very excited.”
Upon departing Payson, the manager would not name a starting pitcher, saying that would be a game-time decision.
Newell has the luxury of having on his roster several seasoned pitchers including Jenna Smith, Kalea Smith, Lauren Murray and Bryndee Hall. All were called upon to hurl during the area and district tournaments.
Offensively, the team sports several good hitters, especially Jodi Taylor and Kylee O’Donald. In the district championship win over Flagstaff, both were 3-for-4 at the plate.
Since the onset of the postseason when the All-Stars were selected, Newell has maintained that the girls have the ability to make a run at a state title mostly because they’ve been involved in Payson’s fast-pitch program since its inception four years ago.
Prior to that, Payson girls played recreation slow-pitch with only a few local players traveling to Phoenix to play on fast-pitch club teams.
While taking a team of 12 girls south to Benson for what could be four days, can be an expensive undertaking, Newell scoured the town last weekend soliciting donations to help defray costs. He came away with about $1,500.
“All of us are very thankful for those who helped the girls,” he said.
Playing in the state tournament is an exciting time for the Payson girls and coaches, but Newell notes there is a note of sadness in it. That’s because the tournament will mark the final time one of the All-Star players will don a Payson Little League uniform.
All-Star Alexis Ough and her family, Newell said, will soon move to Show Low where she will play in the White Mountain program for the coming years.
“We’ll miss her.”