AVON — Heading to Cambridge, site of the 10U Little League state tournament, wasn’t first or foremost on the minds of the Avon players or coaches when they began practicing for the District 3 tournament.
Then the players started working hard in practice to get ready for the higher level of tournament play, the wins started coming and a championship team started to look like it could be not just a dream but a reality.
Now, it’s Cambridge here they come.
Avon begins state tournament play Saturday against District 9 champion Loveland at 3 p.m.
Some people might say Avon beat the odds by just qualifying for the state tournament.
“Going in we were told we weren’t the favorites,” Avon coach Phillip Pintar said. “Tallmadge was big dogs in District 3. So I told the team, let’s just work hard and have fun and see what happens.”
What happened was Avon won all four of its games to win the District 3 title and now the team is feeling confident heading to Cambridge.
“I had some questions if we could make it to state,” catcher Ben Shaffner said. “Maybe I thought the other teams might be better than us. After we won the championship, now we all have more confidence. We won’t get down on ourselves if we strike out or make an error.”
The Avon team is comprised of the top 10U players from all of the teams in Avon Little League and Pintar said narrowing that group down to a final roster of 14 wasn’t easy.
“We knew who the top hitters and pitchers were, the one thing you really have to focus on is who can play the outfield,” Pintar said. “During the season, you don’t get a lot of reps in the outfield and these guys are all pitching or catching or playing shortstop, so you don’t really know who can play the outfield.”
The coaches must have made the right choices because it’s been defense that has propelled Avon to this far.
“I have such a good fielding team behind me I think we’re going to do well at state,” pitcher Evan Masuga said. “The defense has just been amazing. They’ve helped me out so much.”
Although Masuga has been on the mound for the some of the biggest moments in Avon’s tournament run, including the district championship game against Cuyahoga Falls North, he said the stage hasn’t been too big far him.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” he said. “I just go out and pitch and let the rest of the team work behind me.”
Avon knew it might have something special in the making after it rallied from six runs down to defeat Cuyahoga Falls North 10-9 in the teams’ first meeting. Avon has scored 10 or more runs in each of its four wins.
“We’ve been working hard all season and our coaches have been doing a good job of teaching us what we need to do,” first baseman Grant Barr said. “I thought we’d have a really good team and maybe have a chance to win a state championship. It feels good to have the chance to represent our hometown. We just have to get tougher when we get down there.”
Pintar said the success of the Avon Little League program (the 11U team is also headed to the state tournament) can be traced back to the players’ first experiences with the game of baseball.
“From the beginning in T-ball, the focus is always on development not on winning,” Pintar said. “You’re seeing the seeds of the philosophy bear fruit. These kids have great fundamentals, great skills. Now is the time to win.”
Pintar said whatever happens on the field in Cambridge he wants his team to make memories that will last a lifetime.
“We might go to state and lose the first two games, that doesn’t matter,” he said. “Enjoy the experience. These are 10-year-old kids. I want them to have fun. The games will take care of themselves.”
Avon 10U Little League Roster: Landon McQuality, Jackson Brokaw, Damian Rodriguez, Troy Louth, Landon Gomez, Drew Sidloski, Austin Wolfe, Blake Elder, Evan Masuga, Lucas Pintar, Ben Shaffner, Grant Barr, Carter Jenny, Jack Schumacher.
Head coach: Phillip Pintar
Assistant coaches: Kevin Brokaw, Matt McQuality