ELYRIA — Vince Lombardi — or whoever first uttered the cliche — was almost right as far as the Little League state tournament is concerned.
Jeff Saxton will tell you winning isn’t everything, but it approaches 100 percent.
“One thing you want to do is stay out of the losers bracket,” said Saxton, manager of the Elyria Little League East Senior all-stars. “If you lose your first game, you could end up playing almost every night.”
Obviously that is not something any of the eight state all-star teams — including the East club — wants to do. Little League pitchers are on a per-game pitch count and pitching on one day means not taking the mound for another two days.
So it could mean needing to play only three games to win the state championship or taking five games to do it.
Saxton will bring 11 players to the tournament, which begins Saturday at Hiland High School in Berlin (Holmes County). That isn’t many young men in uniform, but Saxton insists the team has deep pitching.
“That’s important when you only have 11 players,” Saxton said. “We have four starters and we’ve got two others we wouldn’t be afraid to have pitch if we needed them.”
East, the District 3 champion, will start the tournament Saturday afternoon at 4 o’clock against Painesville, the District 6 champion.
Should Elyria defeat Painesville, it will meet the winner of the game between District 4 champion Morraine and District 5 champ East Homes on Sunday at 7 p.m. A loss would put Elyria in the losers bracket for a game Sunday at 4 p.m.
Christian Stanziano and Seth Harrah were the pitchers in the two district games that earned East a visit to Berlin. Jagar Shaffstall and Jack Klingshirn are the other starters.
Harrah pitched a shutout in a 10-0 semifinal victory, and Stanziano was on the better end of a 12-1 win over West in the championship game July 8.
That was 22 runs in two games. Obviously, the East stars keep more than just fine pitching in their arsenal.
“We can definitely put the bat on the ball,” Saxton said. “We’re aggressive when running the bases (eight steals against West in the final) and we have that deep pitching.
“The depth in pitching is so important. With the Little League having all these pitch counts, strategy comes into play because you don’t want to play too many games. Our pitcher will be monitored very carefully. Pitch-count management will be huge.”
So will the rival pitchers.
“We’re hoping to make their pitchers throw a lot of pitches,” Saxton said. “We hope our batters will take them deep into the count on every at-bat. If we can do that, get good pitching and take care of the little things in the field, we will be all right.”
East will have a couple of things going against it. In addition to having just 11 players, which Saxton calls “light,” the East team is composed almost entirely of 15-year-olds in a division that permits 16-year-olds to compete.
“We will be a young team, but I don’t anticipate that making too much of a difference,” Saxton said. “At the Senior level there isn’t a big difference physically. They’re all pretty much equal.”
And the players don’t have state championship tournament experience from when they played in the lower levels.
“This group is very excited, upbeat, because this is their first time in a state championship,” Saxton said. “I like that.”
Saxton himself has been to two Little League state tournaments as an assistant coach.
Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.