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Little League: West Side faces a long road to win another state title

Tim Nichting hopes he’ll be seeing a lot of baseball from his Hamilton West Side squad this week.

The local all-stars are in the losers’ bracket of the Ohio Little League Tournament after opening with a surprising 10-3 loss to Galion on Saturday at the Hoover Community Recreation Complex.

That means West Side will now have to post seven straight victories to capture their fourth consecutive 12-year-old state title and ninth in the last 10 years.

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» Galion rocks West Side in opener

“If we come out like we practiced this morning, we’re going to win some games,” Nichting said after a Sunday practice session. “Now the question is, will 12-year-old kids come out to play like they did today? I hope enough of them understand that our backs are to the wall. Let’s hope they respond to that.”

Hamilton will meet Kenton on Monday at 6 p.m. in the double-elimination event. A win there would send West Side into a 1 p.m. contest against either Tallmadge or Jefferson on Tuesday.

“We’ve got a couple kids that are going to push it, that really want it,” Hamilton assistant coach Ken Coomer said. “I’m not saying it’s a good thing we lost, but it might kick the team into gear a little bit.”

Nichting noted that West Side lost its first game at state in 1995 and came back to win the championship and advance to the regional.

“Obviously it’s not going to be an easy feat, but we still feel like we’re deep in pitching,” Nichting said. “We’ll get creative with our pitching, but if we get in a tough game, we’re going to burn some people. There is no tomorrow now. The biggest thing is we’ve got to hit. Hitting will solve a lot of problems.”

Jonathan Alcorn will get the mound start against Kenton, which got blanked 10-0 by Berlin East Holmes in a four-inning contest Saturday. The defeat included six errors.

Kenton has never won a state title. In fact, the program has never registered a victory at the state tournament.

“Kenton made it to state about 10 years ago. I think before that was even further back,” Kenton coach Chad Thrush said. “We’re definitely known for our football. We’re working on getting known for our baseball.

“We’ve talked about how important it would be for us to get a win here. Obviously we want more than that, but right now, that’s our focus. We’ve got to try to be the first team to get a ‘W’ from Kenton.”

Right-hander Tim Wilkinson started against East Holmes and might get the ball first against West Side as well, according to Thrush. The Kenton coach said he has several other pitchers to choose from, including lefty Anthony Hunt.

Thrush said Wilkinson is the team’s hardest thrower. Coomer estimated that he throws 60 to 62 miles per hour.

Wilkinson is also among Kenton’s top hitters, along with leadoff man Hunt and Luke Leffler.

“We’ve got to be an offensive team to be successful, and obviously we weren’t today,” Thrush said after the East Holmes loss. “We’ve got to be a team that puts up runs because we don’t necessarily have three or four guys that can throw real hard at this age. They’re going to give up runs and our kids know that, so we’ve got to be able to respond and score more runs.”

Kenton emerged from District 10, which only had two all-star teams in this age group. Kenton defeated Maumee in a best-of-three series (winning the first and third games) to advance to state.

Thrush watched several innings of the West Side-Galion game.

“I would guess (Hamilton) will come out pretty aggressive against us,” he said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it … we’re definitely going to have to play our best baseball and play defense and hit the ball. If that’s the case, we’ve got a chance.”

Hamilton’s coaches stressed the need for better hitting the rest of the week, though Coomer pointed out that West Side “probably hit more hard line drives than Galion did throughout the game. They got momentum, and their confidence just kept on going and our confidence went down.”

“We hit into some bad luck yesterday, but whatever. Galion played better than us,” Nichting said. “We have to make a couple defensive adjustments. Galion made the plays. We didn’t.”

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