While some of the players have experienced turf in travel baseball, coach Ken Coomer said, it's a unique enough situation that he took the team of 12-year-old all-stars to Hamilton's Foundation Field, which installed turf in 2017, for practice in the days leading up to the regional to get used to it.
“We’re kind of getting a crash course these last two days,” Coomer said Thursday. “Sliding is different. Fielding a ground ball is different. The whole game, it’s just different.”
The Great Lakes Regional, a double-elimination tournament featuring state champions from Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Kentucky, starts Sunday at the Grand Park Sports Complex in Westfield, Ind., north of Indianapolis. West Side played there in the summer of 2017, the last time it reached the regional, but the turf was installed in December 2017.
West Side will play the Indiana champions, Silver Creek, at 10 a.m. in the opening round. With a victory Sunday, Hamilton would play the Kentucky champion at 10 a.m. Monday. A loss would drop Hamilton into the elimination bracket, and it would play its second game at 4 p.m. Tuesday. The tournament continues until the championship game Aug. 10.
West Side finished the state tournament with a 5-0 record, beating Galion 5-4 on July 27 in New Albany to advance to the Great Lakes Regional for the first time since 2017. Since West Side last won the regional nine years ago, Michigan and Kentucky have each produced three champions, and Indiana has won twice.
Coomer sees this tournament as wide-open. He knows the Bowling Green (Ky.) team because he’s familiar with their coach from past matchups. Michigan has a new representative, Bay City Northwest, after Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores won the last two regional titles.
Every year, though, Coomer said, “You kind of go into it kind of blind, not knowing anything except what you read on the news. I think we have just as good a chance as any. We’re deep in pitching. We have good defense, and we hit one through 13. I feel just about as good with this team as other teams we have taken.”
The Great Lakes champion will play in the Little League World Series, which takes place Aug. 15-25 in Williamsport, Pa. In 2010, when Hamilton last played in Williamsport, it beat Toms River (N.J.) 16-6 before losing 6-0 to Columbus, Ga., and 6-4 to Waipahu, Hawaii.
West Side left Friday for Indiana. Coomer said the goal of reaching the Little League World Series will feel more real for the players at the regional.
“It will sink in a little bit more once we get there for the kids,” he said. “They watched the stuff on YouTube of games our team has played in the past, and they get excited. Once they get to the field and especially the opening ceremonies, the realization will set in.”