State championships have become the norm at Hamilton West Side.
The program secured its 16th Ohio Little League 12-year-old baseball title — and ninth in the last 11 years — Sunday afternoon by overpowering Canfield 11-0 at Boardman’s Fields of Dreams.
“I think that’s a statement for what kind of program we have at West Side Little League,” Hamilton coach Tim Nichting said. “It never gets old. My kids are as happy as can be, and I think that’s why us adults are here, to help make kids happy in the world.”
West Side’s unbeaten surge through the state tournament included five wins and a staggering 49-1 margin of victory. In nine district/state games, Hamilton has outscored its opponents 93-4.
“We thought we were going to do pretty good, but we weren’t cocky to where we knew we were going to do it,” West Side pitcher Micaden Stephens said. “We had much confidence.”
Hamilton will head to Indianapolis for the Great Lakes Regional, opening against Michigan on Sunday, Aug. 7, at 6 p.m. on the Reuben F. Glick Little League Baseball Center’s Stokely Field.
“It’s good for West Side Little League,” Nichting said. “It’s a good place to play. It’s silly not to play there. We’ve got a lot of tradition, and we’ve got a lot more tradition ahead of us.”
Canfield challenged West Side in Tuesday’s winners’ bracket final before falling 2-0, but simply couldn’t keep up in the rematch.
Stephens was the star of the day for Hamilton. He pitched five innings and went 2-for-3 with a solo home run in the fourth.
“That was a pretty good game for me,” Stephens said. “I played my best, I played my heart out, and it worked pretty good.”
Stephens struck out nine, walked two and gave up three hits in an 85-pitch performance. Maddox Pennington completed the three-hitter.
Pennington homered and drove in three runs, Landyn Vidourek smacked a two-run homer, and Jordan Jones also went deep. Curtus Moak added a two-run double, while Cayden Evans and Braedyn Moore notched RBIs.
“We came out swinging, which I hoped we would,” Nichting said. “It was just big hits by a lot of people. The kids are listening, they understand their roles, and we’re getting better. My pitching’s been doing better than I ever dreamed of. The big key is throw strikes and keep ’em off balance. We play pretty good defense, and we’re going to hit a little bit too.”
Jones took center stage when he came off the bench and slugged a two-out solo homer in the top of the fourth, a no-doubter to left field that gave Hamilton a 3-0 lead.
Jones tossed his bat high in the air as he ran toward first base. He rounded the bases and the home run counted, but Jones was ejected, meaning he won’t be able to play in the regional opener.
“I was like, ‘Dude, what the heck,’ ” Jones said. “I was just happy because everybody was talking like I was going to hit a bomb in the championship game, so to do that, that was nice. I was excited, and Canfield thought they were going to beat us two games in a row. That wasn’t happening … take their hearts out.”
Jones’ ejection was followed by a 45-minute delay because Nichting lodged a protest, and tournament officials had trouble reaching the Central Region office. Once they did, the protest was denied and the game continued.
“I think it’s kind of sad for a kid to go to regionals and have to sit the first game,” Nichting said. “I think he should’ve been warned. I think adults should understand that it’s just a 12-year-old kid.
“Did JJ make a mistake? He definitely overdid it. I’m not going to say he didn’t, but man, it’s hard. I’ve got pretty good control of my 12-year-old kids … sometimes emotion overtakes them. Everybody was feeding off JJ. That’s JJ’s job.”
Canfield coach Kevin Burdette said the ejection was “absolutely” the right call.
“This is the age where you teach the kids so they become responsible adults,” Burdette said. “You can’t toss a bat that far. Anybody that watches baseball knows you can’t do that. The young man was taught a little bit of a lesson today, and I hope he learns from it because it was the right decision.”
Said Jones, “I don’t know if I would do it again because I was going to get two at-bats. Coach (Ken) Coomer and Coach Nichting didn’t really care that I did that. I got that whole thing going, and then it just went on from there. I think they’re going to do fine without me in Indy.”
Nate Shaw, Ryan Petro and Jake Grdic did the pitching for Canfield. Hamilton totaled eight hits.
West Side came back stronger after the delay, scoring twice in the fifth inning and six times in the sixth. Burdette felt the delay didn’t have a significant effect on the game either way.
“We were pumped up before that, we were pumped up after that, and our kids played hard,” the Canfield coach said. “All you can really say is Hamilton gave up one run in the entire state tournament. If you’d have told me my team was going to give up one run throughout the entire state tournament, I really would’ve liked our chances.
“Great pitching wins big baseball games, and they shut us down. They pitched wonderful. It is tough to swallow today, but like life in general, it’s a time to reflect on our body of work over the last few years and the great things we’ve achieved.”
Stephens was very good for Hamilton, and he got an errorless defensive performance behind him. The winners turned an 8-5 double play — with center fielder Matthew Goll throwing to third baseman Charlie Vidourek — to end the third inning.
“We were really excited and hyped to get out here and play in the championship,” Stephens said. “I’ve never won (state) before. I couldn’t play last year. The year before that, my arm was broken. It feels pretty good to be here and win.”
Hamilton West Side 010-226—11-8-0
WP — Micaden Stephens; LP — Nate Shaw; HR — HWS: Maddox Pennington, Landyn Vidourek, Jordan Jones, Stephens
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