By MIKE SHAFFER
For the Star Beacon
Sam Smith had never pitched in the Little League State Tournament. So when the 11 year old entered the game for New Albany Thursday with the bases loaded and his team leading 6-5, no one could have thought that he would turn what looked to be a slugfest into more of a pitcher’s duel.
That is what happened, though, as New Albany, defeated Boardman, 12-6, at Cederquist Park to remain undefeated in tournament play and advance to the championship game on Saturday.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these boys and the way they played,” New Albany manager George Arenschield said. “This is a hard-working team and they came here to win a state championship and I don’t think anybody told them they’re not supposed to.”
Boardman will play Hamilton today in the loser’s bracket final at 3 p.m. on Tulino Field. The winner will have to beat New Albany twice on Saturday to win the state championship.
“This is really a lot of fun.” George Arenschield said. “This is what little league is all about. The other day I probably got over 100 text messages congratulating the kids on making it this far.
“I tell out team you’re not playing for the name on our uniforms; you’re playing for your community. “We’re playing for Columbus and right now we have the community behind us.”
Apparently, nobody told Smith that the Boardman team could be shut down offensively after they put five runs on the board in the first two innings.
Smith entered the game with the bases loaded and two outs in the second inning. Boardman had already scored four runs in the inning on a grand slam by Travis Harvey to turn what was a commanding 6-1 lead for New Albany into a one-run game.
Smith ended the threat, getting a Michael O’Horo to line out to third to leave the bases loaded.
After that, he retired twelve of the next 15 batters he faced, allowing only an unearned run off one hit. He struck out five.
“Sam was just brilliant today,” Arenschield said. “I can’t say enough about him today, he was just spectacular in shutting them down.”
The New Albany bats played a big part in the win, also. With two outs and nobody on in the first inning, the offense exploded for six runs.
After a single by Nick Schroyer, Parker Thompson hit an opposite-field home run to right to get New Albany on the board. Thompson homered again in the sixth inning and collected four RBI on the day.
“Parker is extremely locked in right now,” Arenshchield said. “I’ve coached him for a few years now and he’s become someone I can really count on. When he’s up there, as a coach, I can breathe a little easier.”
The next hitter, Ben Smith followed Thompson’s two-run blast with a solo shot of his own. Then, after a pair of walks, it was Keaton Stankowski blasting a ball over the fence in center to cap off the rally.
Harbey led off the bottom of the first inning with a homer to get his team on the board.
After New Albany was held scoreless in the second, Boardman got right back in the game.
Nick Yallech legged out an infield single with one out. After Michael Fetsko was hit by a pitch, Shay Elcher followed with a single to load the bases.
Thompson, pitching for New Albany, struck out the next hitter for the second out, but had to face Harvey.
The leadoff hitter cleared the bases with a no-doubter over the fence in left field for his second home run of the day.
“That was huge for us, Boardman coach Brian Fonderlin said. “After they had their big inning that got us right back in the game and had us fired up.”
That fire was extinguished though when Sam Smith took over on the mound for New Albany.
“He was a different type of pitcher,” Fonderlin said. “We’re a good fastball-hitting team and he really did a nice job of keeping us off balance. We went up there swinging at a lot of first pitches which is very untypical of us.”
The score remained 6-5 until the fourth inning when New Albany rallied for three insurance runs. Schoyer and Ben Smith had key hits to fuel the rally.
Boardman got a run back in their half of the fourth when Harvey doubled and scored on a throwing error to cut the score to 9-6.
New Albany put it away, though, with three more runs in the sixth inning. Thompson smacked his second home run with a man on to make it 11-6. Later, Alex Arenschield added an RBI single to complete the scoring.
Hamilton West Side 35, Wheelersburg 9
Hamilton West Side got off to about the best start possible in dropping Wheelersburg. It scored 12 runs in the top of the first and 10 more in the second before settling down to notch six in the third and seven in the fourth.
Caleb Owens was 6-for-6 with a homer and Matthew Myers was 5-for-5 with a pair of homers to pace the Hamilton West Side offense. Alex Mills homered twice, including a grand slam, among his three hits. Montana Allgaier (3 hits) and Cooper Haynes both homered twice and Peyton Pennington and Cameron Tenhunfeld each homered among two hits.
Trey Carter had three hits and scored twice, Evan Dahm homered twice and drove in six and Dustin Darnell homered for Wheelersburg.
Shaffer is a freelance writer from Ashtabula