Painesville will be the center of the Little League baseball universe in the Buckeye State for the next week as 11 of the top squads of 12-year olds do battle for the right to take the next step on the road to a championship. The action starts Saturday and runs through Aug. 2 at the Kiwanis Recreation Park.
The lineup for the 2015 tournament includes the local kids from Galion Youth Baseball representing District 7. The rest of the field features Geneva United (District 1), Canfield (District 2), Cuyahoga Falls North (District 3), North Canton (District 4), Mount Vernon (District 5), New Albany (District 6), Washington Court House (District 8), Hamilton West Side (District 9), Maumee (District 10) and Wheelersburg (District 11).
Defending state champion Canfield and 2014 state runner-up Hamilton West Side are considered the headliners at this year’s tournament. The Hamilton squad is looking for its third consecutive state championship after winning titles in the 10- and 11-year old divisions the previous two seasons.
Galion stormed through the District 7 tournament with an unblemished record that included a pair of wins over Fremont. The orange and blue shut out Fremont 10-0 in the semifinals and then posted a 16-3 victory in the district finals to book a spot in Painesville. In the finals, Galion reaped the benefits of a power surge from unlikely places in the team’s batting order as Matthew McMullen, Seth Shumate and Troy Manring each hit a home run.
“Our two and six and nine batters are usually our bunters, our small-ball hitters, I guess,” said Galion head coach Jason McMullen. “The big thing with these kids is they’re not intimidated at all. They’ve played so much ball. The confidence is there. We talk a lot about taking the field with a little bit of swagger, and they do that. I think from that, when the game gets tight or if things don’t go our way, they don’t get rattled. They’re pretty calm. As coaches, we don’t get too fired up, because we know how they’re going to respond.”
McMullen said he doesn’t anticipate juggling the lineup for the state tournament.
“We’re gonna go with what we’ve got,” he said. “We really feel like we’ve got the kids in the right spots.”
Galion’s pitching staff and defense have been dominant during the successful postseason run. The trio of Caden Armstrong, Carter Keinath and Owen Mullins gives Galion a solid mix of power and control on the mound.
“We’re very confident with our pitching and our defense,” McMullen said. “We’ve got three kids that can really throw, and we’ve got, probably, five kids after that that are pretty darn good, that would probably be number ones on any team in this district. They just haven’t had a chance to throw yet.”
McMullen said he and his coaching staff will draw on the experience of four previous trips to state tournaments at the 9-, 10- and 11-year old levels in preparation for this year’s competition.
“Staying loose; don’t let the nerves get to them,” he said. “Play like they are right now with that confidence, and have fun. You know, they expect so much out of themselves when they’re 12-years old. I try to remind them, ‘You’re still 12-years old. You’re gonna make mistakes.’ Playing loose and having fun, it’s Little League baseball, it’s what it’s all about.”
Galion opens tournament play on Sunday against either Hamilton West Side or Wheelersburg. First pitch is set for 3 p.m. at Painesville.
The champion of the Ohio tournament will move on to the Great Lakes Regional Aug. 9-15 in Indianapolis, Ind. The regional winner will play in the Little League World Series Aug. 20-30 in South Williamsport, Pa.
Ohio 12U Little League State Tournament
Kiwanis Recreation Park, Painesville
Opening Round Schedule
Saturday, July 25
Wheelersburg (11) v. Hamilton West Side (9), 10 a.m.
Canfield (2) v. New Albany (6), 12:30 p.m.
Cuyahoga Falls North (3) v. Maumee (10), 3 p.m.
Sunday, July 26
Washington Court House (8) v. Mount Vernon (5), 1 p.m.
Galion (7) v. Wheelersburg/Hamilton West Side winner, 3 p.m.
North Canton (4) v. Canfield/New Albany winner, 5:30 p.m.
Geneva United (1) v. Cuyahoga Falls North/Maumee winner, 7:30 p.m.
Andrew Carter can be reached at 419-468-1117, ext. 2048. Connect with him on Twitter @ACGalionSports.