ELYRIA — Imagine having less than three weeks to prepare a softball team to face some of the best talent from across the Midwest, all without the benefit of having played together before.
That’s the task facing manager Mike Ellis and his Elyria East Little League All-Star team as they prepare for the Little League Central States Junior League Regional Championship which begins today at Akron’s Firestone Stadium.
The tournament is hosted annually by Ohio Little League District 3 and with Elyria East being the only Little League program in District 3 to field a team in the age division, Ellis’ team had what amounted to a bye all the way to the regional tournament.
“The biggest challenge is trying to figure out who fits where the best,” Ellis said. “We select an all-star team from our four teams we have here and you might wind up with four or five shortstops and three center fielders. So we have to figure out who will help the team the most at what position. Everyone can’t necessarily play their favorite position so we have to get them to buy into doing what’s best for the team.”
Elyria East has qualified for the Junior League World Series, which is held annually in Kirkland, Wash., on three occasions, most recently in 2010. The 2013 team’s quest for a regional championship will begin Sunday at 8 a.m. when they play a team from Lagrange, Ill.
Pitcher and infielder Elizabeth Ellis is the only player on this year’s team who was also on the 2012 regional team.
“I know when we get there everyone will be nervous and excited,” said Ellis, who as an Elyria High School freshman played in the Division I state title game versus North Canton Hoover in June. “I think it’s going to be my job to get everybody settled down and ready for the game.
“I try to be a leader by example to the younger players. I’m not really bossy so I don’t always say a lot, but I know how hard we have to work in order to be successful.”
The Elyria East All-Stars have been practicing three times a week since the teams was selected in July.
“I was super excited to be chosen for this team,” center fielder Macy Taylor said. “I can’t wait for the first game on Sunday. We’ve been working hard at practice and working on fundamentals to make sure we are sharp and ready. We know we have to work hard and play as a team.”
Elyria East will play two games on Sunday and Monday with the top two teams in each pool qualifying for Tuesday’s semifinals. The championship game is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
The tight schedule will force Ellis to juggle his pitching staff as Little League rules allow a pitcher to throw no more than 10 innings in one day and any pitcher who throws more than four innings in a day is disqualified from pitching the following day.
“It’s not like travel ball or high school ball where you can just put nine girls out there and play,” Ellis said. “There are rules in Little League about how many innings everyone must play.”
Last season Ellis was the assistant coach under manager Chris Sito. This year their roles are reversed with Sito serving as Ellis’ assistant.
“Mike and I, as well as (assistant coach) Candace (Ellis) and Scott Barnes, who has been helping us out, coached the four teams in the league all season,” Sito said. “So we had an idea what players might make the team and had a chance to put them in different positions.”
Pitcher/first basemen Lauren Shaw said that although the group didn’t begin to practice as a team until just a few weeks ago, the work the players put in all year will prepare them for the event.
“The Little League season and getting to work with our coaches all summer was good practice for this tournament,” Shaw said. “I’m really excited. I can’t wait to get down there and play. I think we’re ready to go.”
Teams from Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Kentucky will fill out the eight-team field alongside Canfield, which won the state tournament last month.
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kodi Akers, Meghan Allegretto, Abby Barnes, Emily Bobek, Ashley Cascio, Elizabeth Ellis, Kaylee Hummrich, Annaliese Prunty, Lauren Shaw, Sammie Stefan, Hanna Taulbee, Macy Taylor.
Manager: Mike Ellis; Assistant coaches: Candace Ellis, Chris Sito
** 8 a.m. — vs. LaGrange, Ill.
** 10:30 a.m. — vs. Lake Russell Flatwood, Ky.
** 8 a.m. — vs., Lacoma Central, Miss.
** 1 p.m. — vs. South Portage, Mich.
** Semifinals at noon, 3 p.m.
** Third-place game, 10 a.m.
** Championship game, 1 p.m.
Games at Firestone Stadium in Akron