Seven players on the West Side Little League 12-year-old all-star team weren’t part of the organization’s district tournament run at any age group last year, but they still all know the expectations that come with the name on the front of their jerseys at this particular level.
They’ll seek to live up to those expectations as the District 9 tournament begins Friday at the West Side Little League park in Hamilton.
A West Side team has never failed to capture the championship since the tournament for 12-year-olds began in 1985, and coach Kenny Coomer said even with so many new players there is no reason this group can’t keep the streak alive.
“They see the signs up in the park,” Coomer said. “Some were kids growing up and coming through as T-ballers or in coach pitch and coming to our district final games, so they know what it’s about. They know what we’re up against. It’s our job as coaches to get them to play competitive and understand what’s at stake. They are still kids, but it’s our job as coaches to make them realize the whole picture of what this means.”
West Side opens against West Chester-Liberty Township at 8:30 p.m. Friday. The tournament, which runs through July 11, also features teams from Loveland, Mason, Monroe, Edgewood, Anderson Township and Hamilton-Fairfield Little Leagues. District 9 encompasses Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton, Highland and Warren counties with 14 leagues, close to 7,000 players and 500 teams across all divisions.
This year’s West Side roster features just two returners from last year’s team, as infielder/pitcher Cam Carter and third baseman/pitcher Conner Cuozzo both played as 11-year-olds. Four others played on the 9/10/11 team, including outfielder Xander Arnold, pitcher/outfielder Chad Taylor and utility players Brooks Treadway and Eli Wolpert.
»PHOTOS: West Side wins 2018 District 9 title
Everyone else is new, as first baseman Elijah Brandner, outfielder Rowen Brown, outfielders/pitchers Kade Bowling and Peyton Davis, infielder/pitcher Cade Cummins, shortstop/pitcher Matt Ponatoski and catcher Austin Vangen join the group.
Coomer said part of the reason for so many newcomers is related to boundary changes or kids just coming back to the league after being away, but there also was a rule change that moved the birthday cutoff from Sept. 1 to May 1, which means there are no more 13-year-olds playing at this level.
“It’s not like we’re always dependent on older kids – we’ve always had a good balance of ages for our team,” Coomer said. “We just don’t know overall the competition. For our district, it’s getting harder and harder every year. Loveland and Mason are programs we’ve been battling with the last few years, and we just don’t know how the age change will affect things. We take the best 13 kids in the league, so it’s not about age for us, just talent.”
Coomer said this is one of the more balanced teams he’s had in terms of skill set. He and assistant Tim Nichting have been trading off between manager and assistant the past few years. They are joined on the staff by utility coach Danny Adams and third base coach Brion Treadway.
“There have been years in the past where we’ve been stronger in some things and weaker in some things, but this year, we’re pretty balanced,” Coomer said. “We have deep pitching, the defense is solid and we can hit. Numbers 1-9 hit pretty strong.”
It’s a good enough team to make a big run, Coomer said. But that’s always a realistic goal.
West Side, a four-time World Series participant, was knocked out of the state tournament last yearafter claiming three straight state titles. The organization had won eight of the last nine state titles at the 12s division prior to 2018 and has made 17 regional appearances overall.
“Tim and I have been doing this a long time, and we know what to expect, know what we hope to achieve,” Coomer said. “We’ve won something like 35 years in a row. We know everybody is after us, so we have a good group of kids and hopefully we can continue the (district) streak. We’re confident we can make a good run because we have the capability to go to Williamsburg.”
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