Payson Junior All-Stars Shock Chandler

Defense errorless; pitcher has ‘the game of his life’


Miracles do happen in sports.

Consider, Wyoming dairy farmer Rulon Gardner beat Russia’s Alexander Karelin, who hadn’t lost in 13 years, to win a 2000 Olympic gold medal in wrestling.

Shock waves reverberated throughout the mainland when lightly regarded NAIA school Chaminade upset top-ranked and unbeaten Virginia 67-62 in a Hawaiian tournament.

In the 1983 NCAA basketball tournament, bubble team North Carolina State knocked off Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma when Lorenzo Charles took a 30-foot air ball out and dunked as time expired to give the Wolfpack a one-point win.

In Super Bowl III, no one gave Joe Namath’s upstart New York Jets a chance to beat the Colts, but the New York team played an almost perfect game, winning 16-7.

While the Payson Little League Junior All-Star team’s 12-0 upset of powerful Chandler National in the second round of the state tournament July 17 in Prescott might not be a miracle of national magnitude, it is a win almost no one expected.

“We just shocked them,” All-Star manager Tony McNeeley said. “They took us too lightly.”

Chandler National is a highly renowned 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. Chandler National also has a huge pool of young athletes to draw from, most of whom play year-round baseball.

Payson, conversely, has only a small group of players to draw from, few play year-round ball, and the program has not experienced overwhelming success in postseason play with only a handful of teams ever advancing to the state tournament.

In fact, the Payson Stars have only the minimum nine players on the team, which means the squad couldn’t substitute if a player is injured or ill.

Despite facing overwhelming odds, the spunky Payson Stars jumped out to a 6-0 lead over Chandler, expanded it to 12-0 in the second inning and held on for a 10-run rule victory after Chandler batted in the top of the fifth.

Taran Sarnowski received the starting pitching nod from McNeeley and responded with, “the game of his life.”

In the first frame, it took Sarnowski only 10 pitches to sit Chandler down without a hit or walk.

In the second, history repeated itself when the fireballer threw just 11 pitches to record three outs.

“Taran was lights out,” said scorekeeper Melanie McNeeley.

While Sarnowski was dominating on the mound, his teammates in the infield and outfield were backing him up with an errorless defensive effort.

“Chandler hit the ball, but we made all the plays, some of them great,” said McNeeley.

The manager refused to single out any players for their offensive exploits, saying all nine of the players on the roster contributed.

“Every one of them scored,” McNeeley said.

With the win, the Stars advance to a quarterfinal game to be played at 8 p.m. July 19 at Prescott High School against Goodyear.

Rio Rico and Yuma are the only two other unbeaten teams in the tournament.


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