West Side Little League pitcher and right fielder J.J. Vogel said it’s been a long two weeks waiting for the team’s next game, but the excitement is only building.
The state champion 12-and-under all-stars are one step away from the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa..
West Side opens play at the six-team Great Lakes Region Tournament on Sunday in Whitestown, Ind., live on ESPN+ at 10 a.m. against the Kentucky state champions. It’s a double-elimination format in which the top two teams both advance to the World Series. The regional championship game is Aug. 14.
“It’s really exciting, just knowing we only have to win three games to get there,” Vogel said. “We’ve got a pretty good team and I think we have a pretty good shot. I’m excited. We just have to know if we all hit together, we can win. We’re ready for it.”
West Side has made it to regionals in 10 of the last 12 years, including an appearance there in 2019, the last time the tournament was played. The organization has made the Little League World Series four times, most recently in 2010, but none of the current players have experienced a regional tournament.
Coach Kenny Coomer is expecting some nerves from his players.
“Everyone is nervous, but excited at the same time,” Coomer said. “None of the kids have experienced this. We’ve been practicing these two weeks so everyone is ready to play ball. Two straight weeks of districts and state and then having two weeks off, it felt like forever, but we tried to keep them busy with different games and drills to keep their interest, and now it’s time. We’re ready to go.”
As for the competition, Coomer said he tried to do some scouting and collected as much information on the other teams as he could, but it’s difficult to prepare specifically for an opponent.
West Side has mainly focused on just fine-tuning things the team learned during the state tournament, where West Side won the winner’s bracket and then needed a second game in the championship to win it.
“We’ve hit pretty decent, but still could hit better,” Coomer said. “We hope to maintain the pitching we’ve done. Our pitchers have done a great job through both sets of tournaments. It’s hard to say anything needs changed. We’ve played pretty well, it’s just a matter of keeping that drive and remaining confident.”
Coomer said that first loss – after rolling through district play – was a bit of a wake-up call, but the players’ confidence wasn’t shaken.
“It was a small wake-up call to show we need to work a little harder,” Coomer said. “It was a good game. The game we lost, we didn’t play bad. They just happened to win, and that’s just the way it falls sometimes. They have that drive, and they are ready to play and keep this thing going.”
Coomer said the Great Lakes Region always features strong competition, though other regions with states like Texas, Florida and California are at a bigger advantage when it comes to the World Series because of the ability to play year-round baseball.
West Side would love a chance to represent Ohio in a good light and show off the organization’s talent.
“It’s a good region,” Coomer said. “You never really know what to expect, but we know there is going to be good competition, and we just have to play our best. They know what we’re up against, and they want to keep winning and get to Williamsport.”
About the Author