Tim Nichting wants his Hamilton West Side players to act like they’ve been to the Ohio Little League baseball tournament before, even if most of them haven’t.
This West Side squad didn’t make it out of District 9 as 10s and 11s, but it romped through the local 12-year-old event and will now play for the program’s 18th state championship at that level.
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“We’re really preaching confidence and walking with your chest out,” said Nichting, who’s won a bunch of state titles with coaching mate Ken Coomer. “This team hasn’t really learned how to win like teams of the past, but it’s a process we’re going through, and we’re getting better every day. I can’t see us not being in the middle of this mix.”
West Side will head to North Canton and begin state play against District 7 champion Galion at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the Hoover Community Recreation Complex.
Hamilton has won eight of the last nine 12-year-old state championships. The last time West Side didn’t make it to the state finals was 2008.
Boardman earned the 11-year-old state crown last year. That team won District 2 as 12s this year and will be waiting for the West Side-Galion winner Sunday at 6 p.m.
“I think we’re always wearing the bull’s-eye,” Nichting said. “I don’t know if that’s because of me and Kenny or just because of our program in general. I think once they see me and Kenny there, they’re going to understand that maybe we’re a little more serious about our baseball this year.”
Galion coach Gary Frankhouse said he’s faced West Side teams a couple times and squared off with the Hamilton Big Blue and Mark Lewis as a player at Galion High School, so he knows a few things about Hamilton baseball.
Frankhouse was an assistant coach in 2015 when West Side blasted Galion 16-0 and 21-1 at the 12-year-old state tournament in Painesville. Kurtis Reid homered five times in the two Hamilton wins, going 4-for-4 with four homers, two grand slams and 11 RBIs in the 16-0 triumph.
“It should be fun … as long as they don’t have Kurtis Reid,” Frankhouse said with a laugh. “I think Goliath is Hamilton, but we’re looking forward to it. The only group that our 2015 team lost to was Hamilton, so there’s a hunger in us to want to see those guys. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s just fun to play great teams.”
Galion went 3-1 en route to winning its district crown, beating New London (17-0) and Bellevue (8-1) before splitting with Shelby (losing 4-3, then winning 9-5). The program has never won a 12-year-old state championship.
Frankhouse, who played baseball for two years at Miami University, said his team has a considerable amount of size. Two of the biggest players, Holden Hunter and Derek Prosser, have combined for nearly 40 home runs in 2018.
Outfielder/first baseman Carter Weaver “is hitting about .800 for me,” according to Frankhouse. Right-handers Landon Campbell and Jayden Leach are the team’s top pitchers, and the Galion coach said they throw in the 65-70 miles-per-hour range.
“I would compare those guys to what I’ve traditionally seen from Hamilton’s pitchers,” Frankhouse said. “They’ve got good offspeed stuff and place the ball well.
“Overall, they’re a group that’s been playing together probably since they were 7 years old. They’ve played a lot of baseball, both Little League and travel. We’ve been hitting a lot of line drives. Even though I pitched in college and pitching is my love, at the Little League level, if you’ve got good pitching, hitting wins. So I’ve been focusing on hitting.”
Nichting said righty Eddie Tanner is expected to get the mound start for West Side.
Nick Brosius and Clint Moak played up on the Hamilton 12-year-old team that advanced to the Great Lakes Regional last year. Not surprisingly, they led the offense during a 47-4 outscoring of four opponents at this year’s District 9 tourney — Brosius hit .667 with 10 RBIs, while Moak had a .636 average with eight RBIs.
West Side’s team batting average at district was .421. The pitching staff had 31 strikeouts in 19 innings with a 0.63 earned run average.