MOUNT VERNON — The Sport-N-Shoes Mount Vernon 14-year-old All-Stars are ready to play in the Babe Ruth State Tournament, according to their coach, Jon Edwards.
It’s a good thing, as the Sport-N-Shoes team will play in the first game of the 10-team double-elimination tournament tonight at 6 at Memorial Park in Mount Vernon.
“The kids are itching to play. They were bugging me to pick the first game. Hopefully, this is a good thing,” Edwards said.
Edwards didn’t have any choice in the matter when it came to the draw Thursday night, as he pulled out the final number for the blind draw. Sport-N-Shoes will get a familiar foe in that opening game — Guernsey Valley.
The Guernsey Valley team is made up of mostly players from the Cambridge team that Mount Vernon faced in Little League district competition for three straight years.
“This is a team we’re very familiar with. We’ve had some tough games with them where either team could have won. We were fortunate most of the time to come away with the win,” Edwards said. “It all comes down to if my kids perform. I truly believe we’ll be all right. If we play together, we’ll be tough to beat.”
Sport-N-Shoes is an experienced bunch, led by several players who advanced to the Little League Regional finals two years ago. Austin Blanton, Nathan Bolander, Josh Edwards, Dylan Hess, Nick Hoar, Jayben Martin, Logan Rhea and Lucas Staten were all on that team which was one game from the Little League World Series.
Add to that mix Trey Atherton, Thomas Bien, Jacob Bowers and Chad Lupher, and coach Edwards is feeling optimistic about this year’s tournament.
“Really, our job as coaches is to try and find their best spot position-wise, get out of the way and let them play,” Edwards said.
With 10 teams playing a double-elimination tournament in just six days, pitching will be especially important. Edwards feels his team is loaded in that department.
Martin, Hoar and Edwards all have plenty of experience, while Hess, Bien and Staten give him three good lefties to call on. Add in Blanton and Bowers and Sport-n-Shoes coaches Edwards, Mike Bowers, Bryan Ford and Bruce Blanton won’t have much trouble finding someone to get a needed out.
“We’re blessed to have four legitimate No. 1s. As our pitching goes, we go, and I believe it will be one of our strong points,” coach Edwards said. “At this point, you’ve got to assume everyone is going to hit. Pitching and defense have been our mainstay. We’re fortunate to have plenty of options. If someone is not throwing strikes, they won’t pitch. We have too many that can.”
It won’t be an easy road for anyone though, as 10 tough teams will play for a shot to go to Eau Clair, Wis., for regional competition.
Also playing tonight will be Springfield and the Zanesville Nationals at 8:30. On Saturday, Zanesville Americans will play Northridge at noon, Mound Builders will play Springfield Warhawks at 2:30 p.m., Clear Fork will await the winner of Mount Vernon and Guernsey Valley at 5 p.m., and Warren Athletic Club will tangle with the winner of Zanesville Nationals and Springfield at 7:30 p.m. The tournament will be played throughout the week with the championship game scheduled for Thursday at 8:30 p.m.
“We’re excited to have 10 teams in it. That will really mean something if we’re fortunate enough to win. But, we’ve got our work cut out for us,” coach Edwards said.