The Payson Little League 11-12 years softball All-Stars lived up to coach Andre Newell’s confidence by bulldozing their way to the Area 1 championship with wins over Winslow and Flagstaff.
With the gold trophy in hand, the Stars advance to the District 1 finals in Springerville as a No. 1 seed and will play Area 2 champion Blue Ridge.
“I took my team to BR this season and we whipped them on their home field in a doubleheader,” said Newell. “These girls have great confidence and we will come out and battle each game vs. any team.
“I have faith in each of my girls and am very happy to see this game rise to this level for Payson.”
Since the All-Stars were selected at the conclusion of the regular season, Newell has insisted his team has the talent to win Area and District honors and, possibly, the state championship.
Last season the team advanced to state, which was held in Benson, but came up short of winning the title.
Newell contends the 2013 team — buoyed by the return of most of last season’s players — could take state and earn a berth in the Little League World Series.
Area 1 finals
In the Area 1 tournament played June 25 to 27 at Rumsey Park, the Payson Stars opened with a 9-5 win over Winslow and followed it up with a 15-7 victory vs. Flagstaff.
Against Winslow, Kalea Smith hurled a complete game striking out eight, giving up five hits and walking four.
Offensively, catcher Jodi Taylor was 2-for-4 with a double, single, two runs scored and three RBIs.
“We started a little hesitant on offense,” said Newell. “However we found our bats in the third, fourth and fifth innings.”
In the game, Winslow sent just four over the minimum 15 batters to the plate thanks to the efforts of Smith on the hill and a rock solid defense.
In the win over Flagstaff, the same team Payson beat last season in the District 1 finals, the Stars scored six runs in the first two innings to take a lead they would never relinquish.
Taylor turned in her second successive All-Star-like game reaching base on five at-bats, scoring four runs, contributing three RBIs and stealing three bases.
“She seemed to be the team’s spark plug,” Newell said.
Hurler Jenna Smith got the starting nod from Newell and picked up the complete game win striking out eight and allowing five earned runs.
Offensively, she hit .500, stole two bases and had an RBI.
Newell also praised Kylee O’Donnell saying, “She came up big hitting for power with a triple and an .800 average.”
Following the tournament victory, Newell expressed a bit of coaching philosophy lamenting, “I try to make (softball) fun and keep them interested. Hopefully, it will follow them through high school and beyond.”
Newell also thanked the parents for their dedication and allowing their daughters to play.
“These girls get only a one week summer vacation before going back to school and starting softball again at the junior high.”
In the 9-10 years Area 1 Little League baseball tournament going on at Rumsey III field, the Payson All-Stars, coached by Ken Schneider, dropped a 7-4 decision to Holbrook on July 2. The loss dropped Payson into the losers bracket where it has the opportunity to rebound and win the Area title.
Also participating in the tournament are West Flagstaff, Continental and Winslow.