- Rick Cassano Staff Writer
State tournaments don’t involve a lot of sitting around for the Hamilton West Side all-stars.
On Sunday evening, hours after winning its opener in the Ohio Little League 12-year-old baseball tournament, West Side practiced.
“We go with our system,” Hamilton coach Ken Coomer said. “Our system is a lot of reps, understanding roles and playing as a team. We always try to take a team approach no matter what happens. Every player has a role, even if they’re on the bench.”
Monday was an off day for West Side, which faces Mt. Vernon in a 3:30 p.m. winners’ bracket semifinal on Tuesday at Ford Park’s Robert S. Hoag Field.
Also remaining in the winners’ bracket are Canfield and the Olentangy Patriots. They’re set to play Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Right-hander Lake Cundiff is expected to get the mound start for Hamilton. Braedyn Moore, Ethan Mueller, Davis Avery and Casey Parsons did the pitching in Sunday’s 13-4 conquest of Maumee, but they’re all eligible to throw Tuesday if needed.
“I throw pretty hard,” said Cundiff, who was asked to describe himself as a pitcher. “I have a nice little curveball they call for sometimes. (The batters) usually don’t know what’s coming.”
“When Cundiff’s on, he’s as good as anybody,” Coomer said. “He’s been coming on strong lately with a good breaker and a good fastball. He’s very comparable to Moore.”
Mt. Vernon, the District 5 champion from Knox County, beat Galion 3-2 on Saturday in its state opener. Coach Chris Buttke was not part of that contest while serving the back end of a two-game suspension for a player participation violation at the district level.
Buttke said his ejection involved the removal of an injured player, which he felt was the right thing to do.
“It’ll be good to get back on the sideline,” Buttke said. “I’ve coached these kids forever. I’ll be happy to be out there with them (Tuesday).”
He said West Side won’t need to worry about facing any fireballing pitchers Tuesday because Mt. Vernon doesn’t have any available.
“We have a few sore arms, guys that normally pitch that can’t pitch,” Buttke said. “Just in general, being from a teeny little town like Mt. Vernon, we don’t have a whole lot to choose from either. We’ve basically had the same team since the kids were 7 with some small changes here and there.
“Our starting pitcher will be a game-time decision. Those Hamilton kids are used to seeing 60-, 65-mile-an-hour fastballs. We’ll probably start somebody that doesn’t throw very hard just for that reason. The kids that throw a little harder struggle a little more with their control, and I hate bases on balls. If you’re giving people free bases, you’re going to be in trouble.”
Said Coomer, “They threw a lot of curveballs from what we saw in their first game. We’ve just got to be patient with the sticks, not be jumpy and hit the ball to right-center.”
Buttke said hitting is the strength of his team, even if the performance against Galion didn’t show it. Third baseman Ty Adams, catcher Trevor Buttke and shortstop Cash Finnell are among Mt. Vernon’s best hitters.
Chris Buttke said 10 of his 13 players also play travel ball.
“We finished 20-8 in the travel season,” he said. “We’ve seen great pitching all summer long. Even if Hamilton pitches Moore, I think we have a good chance to get to him. But I would call (Saturday’s) performance below average, and it surely won’t get the job done against a team like Hamilton.”
This Mt. Vernon squad placed fourth at the state tournament as 10s and 11s. The program’s only 12-year-old state championship came in 2008.
“Our kids have wanted to play Hamilton just because it’s Hamilton. I’ve wanted to as well,” Buttke said. “I want to be able to tell people 20 years from now, if Little League is still going on, that we got to play them when we were 12.
“I know at this age group Hamilton is a perennial power. But I know for a fact if we play like we’re capable of playing and have a little bit of everything go our way, we’ve got a chance. In basketball and football, I think the percentages of the better team winning are a lot greater than the game of baseball.”