West Side looking for return to Little League World Series

The West Side Little League practices on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at their home field in Hamilton. They depart on Thursday afternoon for Whitestown, Ind. for the Great Lakes Region tournament set to take place between Saturday, Aug. 6, and Wednesday, Aug. 10. WSLL will play its first game at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 7, against the winner of the Illinois/Kentucky matchup. The game will air on ESPN+. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

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The West Side Little League practices on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, at their home field in Hamilton. They depart on Thursday afternoon for Whitestown, Ind. for the Great Lakes Region tournament set to take place between Saturday, Aug. 6, and Wednesday, Aug. 10. WSLL will play its first game at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 7, against the winner of the Illinois/Kentucky matchup. The game will air on ESPN+. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

The Hamilton West Side Little League all-stars have patiently been waiting for the next step on the path to the Little League World Series but making the most of it with plenty of practice time.

After a two-week layoff from games since winning the state championship July 21, West Side’s 12-and-under team will open play in the Great Lakes Region Tournament on Sunday, just three wins away from a second straight trip to Williamsport for the Little League World Series.

West Side, coming off its 11th state title in 13 years, plays Sunday against the winner of Saturday’s game between the state champions from Illinois and Kentucky. First pitch is set for 4 p.m. Sunday in Whitestown, Ind. The game will air on ESPN+.

“That’s a long break,” West Side manager Tim Nichting said. “Then, we’ll be there (in Whitestown) for three days hanging out before we play Sunday. It’s crazy they can’t compact this tighter, but in the meantime, we’re getting a lot of practicing in, so we’ll still be ready to go.”

ExplorePHOTOS: West Side prepares for regional tourney

The Ohio and Kentucky state tournaments concluded about a week earlier than those in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.

West Side used the extra practice time the best it could, but Nichting said it would have been helpful to be seeing actual game pitches during that time. To simulate that, some of the pitchers from last year’s World Series runner-up team came to help out, throwing batting practice and playing scrimmages.

During practices, the coaches have especially worked with the pitchers to make sure they are hitting corners, mixing up pitches and locating the curve ball. The hitters will be better at this stage and pitching can make a big difference, especially if the umpires are calling a wider strike zone.

“We like to practice, that’s not a problem with my team, but it’s a shame there is no one for us to play to keep the kids seeing live pitches and to give our pitchers different batters to face,” Nichting said.

Hamilton has only lost one game this postseason, but Nichting is hoping the team can regain the momentum built in response to that defeat over the last two wins at state.

Only the region champion gets to advance to the World Series and it’s a one-game final so the pressure is even greater than last year when both finalists got to move on because of COVID restrictions preventing internationals teams from competing.

“The team really responded well to the next two games after we lost at state, so I’m hoping we can keep that same mentality, that same ‘we can’t lose again’ mentality. We went out and played two good teams and played pretty good. We talked a little about that loss and how we performed after that, and that’s the point we go to regionals with that same attitude.”

Nichting also thinks the team chemistry with such a “close-knitted group” can make a difference on a big stage like the region tournament.

Even with the downtime, Nichting said the players seem focused and he doesn’t expect any nerves to show once they hit the field Sunday.

Before last year, West Side hadn’t been to the World Series since 2010. Hamilton also had been represented in 1991, 1993 and 2007.

“We are focused on winning this tournament,” Nichting said. “I want to go in with a lot of confidence. Going to a different place, the kids are only 12 years old, so they are focused on the task at hand. I’ve been to the World Series four times. My assistant Kenny (Coomer) went last year, that’s kid heaven to make it to the Little League Word Series, even for an old man like me.”

“We’ve worked hard, the kids have worked hard, so we will just let the cards fall as they may. But I think we’re going to do well.”

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