It’s showdown time in the Ohio Little League 12-year-old baseball tournament.
Hamilton West Side, the perennial 12-year-old state champion, and Canfield, winner of 10- and 11-year-old state titles the last two years, are set to square off again.
They are the last two unbeaten teams in the double-elimination state event, with the winners’ bracket final slated for 10:30 a.m. on Thursday at Ford Park’s Robert S. Hoag Field.
“I think the biggest thing, what we’ve preached to our kids over these past however many weeks, is overcoming the last two years of defeat at the state tournament,” West Side coach Ken Coomer said. “And I think our kids are past that. They know we’re better than we were last year.”
This Hamilton team absorbed two losses from Canfield in last year’s 11-year-old state tourney, but has a much better situation this season at the top of its pitching rotation.
New to this squad is Braedyn Moore, who played up with the West Side 12s in 2016. He’ll get the mound start Thursday.
Canfield has to be considered the favorite with back-to-back state crowns with this group, but Hamilton has won nine of the last 11 championships at the 12-year-old level.
“Trust me, they know we’re here,” Coomer said. “They know what we’re all about when it comes to 12-year-olds.”
Neither team wants to drop into the losers’ bracket, which still contains Dover and the Olentangy Patriots. Canfield appears to have more pitching depth than West Side, so Thursday’s game is especially critical for Hamilton.
“Canfield’s definitely deep in pitching,” West Side assistant coach Tim Nichting said. “They’re one of the best defensive teams here, and their first four hitters can swing it. I think it’s going to be the game that everybody wanted. But I like our chances. We’re right where we’ve always been, we’re working it, and we’re going to be right in the middle of it again.”
Canfield coach George Beck said he might not decide on his starting pitcher until Thursday morning. The only certainty is that left-hander Jake Schneider is unavailable on pitch-count rules, as is Hamilton righty Lake Cundiff.
“We have no idea who they’re going to throw,” Coomer said. “Having watched them, we don’t know if they have an ace or if they just kind of throw by feel.”
Avon (10-0), Dover (4-1) and Olentangy (6-5) have been Canfield’s first three opponents. West Side defeated Maumee 13-4 and Mt. Vernon 12-3.
“We’re battle tested, there’s no question about it,” Beck said. “Our district prepares us for that. I still don’t feel like we’ve put our best game together yet, and fortunately we were still able to come out on top in each of those games. Hopefully we can come out and play a little bit of baseball (Thursday) before it catches up to us.”
Hamilton is hitting .426 with five home runs as a team at the state tournament, led by Moore (.750), Casey Parsons (.750), Katelyn Polido (.667) and Davis Avery (.429) among the regulars.
“We like the way we swing the bat,” Nichting said. “We think that’s one of our strengths.”
Beck said Canfield is still seeking its offensive groove.
“Typically, our guys hit 1 through 9,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the pitchers that we’re facing or we’re just in some type of funk right now.
“You’re talking about two good programs. Our program is on the rise, and Hamilton has a tradition-rich program that speaks for itself. We’ve got to come out and play our best game of the tournament. If we don’t, then we’re going to be in the losers’ bracket.
“We’ve got quite a few quality arms, but while saying that, I don’t want to be in the losers’ bracket. We got ourselves in that situation the last two years down in Hamilton and Boardman. We were able to battle back, but that’s a tough road.”
Both sides agree that this state tourney contains more quality teams than recent fields. Dover and Olentangy, who will play Thursday at 1 p.m., certainly can’t be counted out in the losers’ bracket.