Only one victory separates Hamilton West Side from another Ohio Little League 12-year-old baseball championship.
That doesn’t mean the job will be easy.
It’s West Side vs. Canfield for the title in the double-elimination tournament, with Hamilton winning their first matchup 5-4 on Thursday.
Saturday’s finals are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. at Ford Park’s Robert S. Hoag Field, and a second game will follow if Canfield wins the opener. The Ohio champion will earn a trip to the Great Lakes Regional.
“We’re in a better position,” said Hamilton coach Ken Coomer, who won’t have his ace pitcher (Braedyn Moore) available to throw because of pitch-count rules. “It doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent, but they’ve still got to beat us twice.
“We’ll have a bunch of kids available to throw, and we’re confident with us hitting the ball. We know we can hit. We just need to come through a little bit more than we did the last game. We can’t have 11 strikeouts again.”
Moore is the only West Side pitcher who won’t be able to pitch Saturday. Lake Cundiff is slated to get the first start, though Coomer said that could change as well.
Hamilton is seeking its 17th 12-year-old state championship and 10th in the last 12 years. Canfield won titles in 1998, 2000 and 2014.
Canfield, a 15-0, five-inning winner over Dover in Friday’s losers’ bracket final, knows a few things about coming out of the losers’ bracket to become champions. This group did exactly that as 10s and 11s.
GAME 1: Hamilton West Side 13, Maumee 4
GAME 3: Hamilton West Side 5, Canfield 4
“They’re 12. Anything can happen,” Canfield coach George Beck said. “We’ve proven that we can do it the last two years against Olentangy and Dover, so I don’t see any reason why we can’t do it again. Hamilton is a formidable foe without question, but so was Olentangy and so was Dover. We have confidence in our kids.”
West Side completed an unbeaten run through last year’s 12-year-old state tournament by burying Canfield 11-0. Moore played up on that Hamilton squad.
Canfield has two pitchers that won’t be able to throw Saturday: Ben Slanker, one of its top hurlers, and Broc Lowry, who’s pitched very little this year. Slanker allowed three runs in 4.2 innings of relief work against Hamilton on Thursday.
The West Side coaches pointed to A.J. Havrilla, a hard-throwing righty, as Canfield’s ace — he struck out the only Hamilton batter he faced Thursday. Beck smiled when he was asked about who his starting pitcher will be.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” he said. “Honestly, we don’t know yet. We have a slew of pitchers available. A.J. has been closing for us all year, but we’ve got to win Game 1 to get to Game 2.
“We like using A.J. as a closer because he’s a big boy on the mound who throws hard and has a nice breaking ball. Now whether we’ll use him in that role (Saturday), I don’t know yet. We’ll go back and talk and see if we want to throw him in a starting role or if we’ll try to use him on the back end.”
Coomer said Ethan Mueller, Davis Avery, Casey Parsons and Jaycee Taylor are all pitching possibilities for West Side.
“Jaycee actually threw a lot last year at the 11-year-old state,” Coomer said. “She had some back problems the past month, but she’s better now. She’s always been a gamer. Not a tough girl … a tough player.
“The thing about Canfield is they go in spurts. When they score, they score in bunches, so the key is if they score one or two, hold them to one or two.”
Saturday’s weather forecast in Maumee includes a lot of rain, but tournament director Ron Hoag said every effort will be made to finish the tournament Saturday.
Great Lakes Regional play will begin Sunday, Aug. 6, at the Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind. The Ohio champion will meet the Wisconsin champion in the opening game at 4 p.m.