SHENANDOAH JUNCTION — With another District 6 Little League championship tucked under their belts, Jefferson County Little League’s 10-12 all-star baseball team is ready for the next step in a journey that could end up where what every Little League Baseball player hopes to go — the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
After being denied a trip to the state Little League Tournament last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, JCLL’s 10-12 team is 4-0 at this juncture, having swept Hedgesville in the area championship series, then defeating Mineral County in two games for the District 6 title last week.
JCLL won an abbreviated district season last year, but Little League Baseball’s International Headquarters at Williamsport directed all teams worldwide they could not go beyond the district level. So after a year’s wait, JCLL is anxious to begin play at the state tournament this year, being held at Lewisburg’s Little League facilities.
The team is set to begin play on Saturday, facing Shinnston, of Harrison County, at 7 p.m., in a first-round game.
JCLL manager Mike Moulton feel his team is up to the task, adding the fact he’s got some players who were on the 2019 8-10 team which won the state title two years ago. He said they’re familiar with what needs to be done in order to be successful at the state level.
“That kind of experience can help,” Moulton said.
Shinnston is a bit of a surprise when it comes to Little League on the state level. In its district tournament last week, Shinnston defeated Bridgeport to advance to the state tournament. That puts JCLL on notice it needs to play its best baseball in order to remain alive in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament.
Bridgeport is known for being a baseball power, from the youth baseball level all the way through high school baseball. Bridgeport High School defeated Jefferson High School in the Class AAA state semifinals two weeks ago.
This means the easy games are over. Now comes a higher level of difficulty when it comes to opponents.
“We have to go out there, hit the ball, put it in play,” Serf Guerra, JCLL’s leadoff hitter and the power hitter of the team, said during a recent practice. He also said the team can’t afford to make mistakes.
Guerra was on his game during the 5-2 win over Mineral County in Monday’s district title game. He launched a towering leadoff home run far beyond the left-field fence in the bottom of the first inning.
Guerra belted another homer — a two-run shot — over the same spot in left in the fourth. His belt in the first was a fastball, he teed off on a curveball in the fourth.
Guerra said he shortened up his stance at the plate in the first, then took a smaller step on contact. When he came to his homer in the fourth, he said he watched three straight curveballs go by before cutting loose on the fourth one, sending it high and away over the fence in left field.
If JCLL wins its first two games, one on Saturday, the other on Sunday, it gets the day off on Monday before moving on to a winners’ bracket game on Tuesday. A loss would drop JCLL into the elimination bracket, where it would have a harder time trying to win its way back to the championship game.
“If you lose, you end up playing every day,” Greg Sager, JCLL president, said. “We want to avoid that.”
JCLL’s 10-12 team isn’t the only local team headed to a state tournament. JCLL’s 9-11 squad has earned at-large berth in that state tournament, which is being held at the same time, in Huntington.
The 9-11 team was runner-up at the district level, but state Little League officials allowed the runner-up from District 6 to advance as well, Sager said. The state 8-10 and 9-11 tournaments end at the state level, Sager said.
Not having any full seasons last year generated even more interest in the program this season. Sager said 420 players, ranging from T-ball all the way through the Junior League (13-14) program, were involved this year.
“That’s the largest number we’ve had in some time,” he said.