“This is the most important game because this is the one we’re playing now,” says West Senior League baseball coach Anthony Knittel before every game.
That will be the motto for the West Portsmouth team as they begin their quest for a state championship this weekend in Mason, Ohio. The eight-team, double-elimination tournament will determine which team advances to the regional tournament in Illinois and which teams go home.
Since winning the District 11 Tournament with a 10-1 victory over South Point on July 5, Knittel and his team have been working hard to correct the mistakes they made throughout the season.
“There’s always room to improve,” Knittel said. “I think we definitely need to come out and be focused on hitting, because the pitching we’re going to see up there is probably going to be pretty good. It’s tournament time, those teams and those coaches are going to be going with their top dogs.
“We have to get our bunts down. That’s one thing that’s killed us. We need to get our bunts down to move runners and play quality team baseball.”
The West squad will have its work cut out for them in its first two games. They’ll face a dangerous Mason squad that will be playing on its home field, and a North Canton team that has been extremely successful in past state tournaments.
“Supposedly that’s the team that won the tournament five out of six years or four out of five years,” said Knittel of the North Canton squad.
Needing to win at least one of the first two games, West will send Landon Lozier to the mound in game one against District 9.
“We really like when he pitches,” Knittel said. “He’s one of our go-to guys. When he pitches, we have the best defense behind him.”
In addition, Knittel’s team will continue to be aggressive on the base paths, a strategy that has helped them average nearly 10 runs a game.
“More pressure we can put on (the defense) the better chance of them throwing it away,” Knittel said. “Not only that, but if we get thrown out a lot, then we just make our in-game adjustments and we go from there.”
Though they will be facing the best competition in the state, Knittel is confident that his players will handle the pressure well, and says they are excited to represent the Scioto County Region on the big stage.
“Our guys have done very well adapting to the pressure and handling those certain situations,” he said. They’re not there just to be there. I know that when they show up to the park, they’re 100 percent focused and they’re going to come to the field and get better that day. I think that’s what makes this team so special.”
West’s first game will take place Saturday at 1 p.m. The State Championship game will take place on either Wednesday or Thursday.
Alex Hider can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter