World Series berth ‘like an early Christmas present’ for West Side All Stars

West Side Little League All-Stars coach Ken Coomer said his players have been talking about their goal of making it to Williamsport for the past two years.

That dream came true Friday when West Side punched its ticket to the Little League World Series with a 12-0 win over Hinsdale Little League (Ill.) in the loser’s bracket final of the Great Lakes Regional tournament.

The top two teams in all eight regions advance to the World Series, which takes place Aug. 19-29 in Williamsport, Pa. West Side last qualified in 2010, and this will be the organization’s fifth trip.

“They were really excited,” Coomer said. “They’ve been talking about it for the last two years. They wanted to get to the World Series, and achieving it now, it was a good night (Friday) knowing we made it.”

» EARLIER COVERAGE: West Side wins state championship

West Side will be leaving from regionals in Whitestown, Ind., early Sunday morning and heading straight to Williamsport on a charter bus. Teams in other regions are doing the same in an effort to keep players and coaches as secluded as possible with COVID-19 already impacting the tournament.

The Warren County Little League team from Kentucky had to forfeit a game earlier this week against West Side because of a positive case.

Because of rising COVID cases around the country, Little League International on Friday decided to cancel general admission to the World Series. Each qualifying team will receive 250 passes for friends, families and community members.

West Side still has quite the experience ahead of them with Little League World Series and surrounding events. The MLB Little League Classic game between the Los Angeles Angels and Cleveland Indians will take place at Muncy Bank Ballpark following a full slate of the Little League World Series games Aug. 22, and players will get a chance to meet big leaguers – some of whom played in a Little League World Series as well.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

“There’s a lot to look forward to,” said Coomer, whose team dropped a 9-1 decision to Michigan in Saturday’s regional final. “We’ll go to the MLB game, meet players, meet the ESPN broadcasters and crew, new uniforms, new equipment, new bats, being on national TV. They know it’s an early Christmas present.”

Being on a national stage could also be a bit nervewracking at first, but West Side has risen to the occasion in pressure situations this postseason. The Hamilton team advanced to regionals after suffering its first loss of the state tournament, then bouncing back the next day to clinch the title.

West Side also qualified for the World Series after dropping to the loser’s bracket with a loss in the opening game. The team would have been eliminated with another loss but climbed back to reach the final and claim a berth to Williamsport.

In a must-win game in the loser’s bracket final Friday, J.J. Vogel threw a no hitter while striking out 13 batters and walking four. He struck out the side in the first four innings and had one strikeout in the fifth. Vogel also hit a two-run home run to start the scoring in the first inning and went 2-for-3 with three RBIs and three runs scored.

“We’re a scrappy bunch,” Coomer said. “There’s a lot of fight in them. Especially when J.J. is on pitching wise, we just kind of build around him. He’s a team leader. Usually when he does well, the team does well.”

West Side’s offense came to life in a 10-run fifth inning. Four of the runs were scored on bases-loaded walks but Cooper Clay and Vogel started off the inning with hits to finish the outing for Hinsdale’s starting pitcher.

Levi Smith had a pair of hits in the inning to drive in a total of three runs, and Cooper Oden and Maddox Jones each had an RBI single.

“We knew the pitcher was almost out of pitches on his pitch count,” Coomer said. “We were a little more patient, taking balls, making sure we were not swinging at bad pitches. We had a couple walks, kids came through and kept it going. It was one of those innings as a coach, you just keep a smile.”

Coomer said he’s proud of the way West Side has been playing and hopes that continues in Williamsport.

“We just want to thank everyone for all the support and hope we can make Hamilton proud,” Coomer said.

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