There’s another competitive field set to vie for the Central Region Senior League Baseball Tournament championship in the Illinois Valley.
After opening ceremonies Friday, games get underway today at Washington Park in Peru and Dickinson Field in Oglesby.
There are some familiar teams in the field, including defending champion Michigan (Southern), Indiana (Wabash), Iowa (Grandview) and Wisconsin (West Madison).
The newcomers also hope to be competitive, while host Peru looks to make noise again after reaching the championship game last year.
Here is a look at the nine teams:
The host team is very young, but Peru does return two players from last year’s region runner-up team in Drew Lane and Logan Jones.
Lane tossed a complete game in the District 20 Tournament championship to earn Peru a return trip to the region tournament.
Joey Shepard and Augie Wiesbrock also will be top pitchers for Peru.
Lane, Jones, Shepard and Tyreke Fortney are the top offensive weapons for a Peru squad that exploded for 17 runs in the district final.
“Our entire offense is strong,” Peru coach Butch Shepard said. “The whole team is real good. They have good baseball minds.”
Peru looks to be competitive again with strong hitting, speed and solid defense.
“We want to keep our same game plan,” Butch Shepard said. “We’re going to keep our defense tight, our hitting good and use our speed.”
Hanover Park has had players compete in the Central Region Tournament as part of a combined district team, but hasn’t sent a team fully made up of Hanover Park players.
That changed this year.
“It’s really exciting,” Illinois manager Tim Wise said. “We’re further along than we thought we’d get this year.
“Last year in the state tournament, we won one game. We didn’t win any games (at state) two years ago. This year, we went all the way.”
Hanover Park has relied heavily on its offense as it outscored opponents 93-31.
“It’s up and down the lineup,” Wise said. “It depends on the day who is going to produce. We try to make sure everybody is producing as much as we can. That’s one thing we really focused on this year. We wanted to make sure our offense was potent, therefore reducing the amount of pressure on our pitching.”
Hanover Park’s pitching hasn’t been as strong as the offense.
George Betevis, Nic Castrovillari and Jimmy Miceli have been Illinois’ top hurlers.
“Pitching might be our downfall at this point,” Wise said. “We’re only able to bring 11 kids. It’s going to be tricky to get through the tournament with the pitching we have.”
Although pitching is a concern, Wise is confident in his team entering the region tournament.
“We’re hoping to have fun and we’re expecting to play well,” Wise said. “Whether or not we’re going to win, that is very dependent on the teams we’re going to face. There’s no lack of confidence within our group. I’m sure the teams we’re going to see are going to be just as confident.
“I’m very proud of this group. It’s evident they’re dedicated to getting better every year. We’ve come together really well as a group. At the beginning of the season, we weren’t even sure we were going to have a team.”
Wabash Little League has traveled to the Illinois Valley during the last two summers and tallied a third consecutive trip when it won the Indiana state championship this July.
Coach Jon Higgins was a part of all three teams and is excited to give this group of players the experience.
“We’re just excited to come. I’ve experienced the Central Region for the last two years,” Higgins said. “I’ve got young men that are excited to be there. When we started this, no one was really excited to coach this team. Stan Cox and I said, ‘We’ll do it.’ Christian Deeter jumped in. He’s the guy who coached last year, but he couldn’t this year because he is coaching the Junior League team.
“It has been fun because no one wanted to do it and now we’re the state champions and are back at the Central Region.”
The team Higgins brings has played together for many summers and their team chemistry is one of their top strengths.
The coaches are relying on their experience to give them a leg up in this year’s tournament.
“Some of these kids have been playing for a long time,” Higgins said. “It’s a pretty small community here so we know most of the players who are on the team. We have four players who were on the team last year in Chayden Beeks, Jarrett Craft, Micah Higgins and Joseph Webb.”
“They’re a very cohesive team. They get along very well. They might not be the most talented in the world, but they play extremely well together.”
Craft and Dillion Tomlinson are Indiana’s top pitchers and the first two guys to take the plate offensively as Tomlinson is the lead-off hitter and Craft is No. 2.
Colton Learned is the No. 3 hitter, who Higgins expects a lot from.
“Those are the guys who are going to move the ball for us but honestly we’ve been hitting the ball 1-9,” Higgins said. “We haven’t been crushing it, but we’ve moved the ball.”
Grandview is no stranger to the Central Region Tournament.
Several starters are back from last year’s Grandview team that reached the region tournament and manager Matt Sheets was an assistant coach on a previous Grandview region team.
Still, he’s not sure what to expect.
“We have kids who (got here) late Friday because they still had high school games,” Sheets said. “Some kids might not be able to play depending on how the high school teams go. If we have our full team there, I think we can compete with everybody. Even if we’re missing three or four kids, I still think we’re going to be competitive. The firepower might be a little down offensively, but as far as pitching and defense, we’re still a good team.”
From his previous experience, Sheets knew pitching would be important, and Iowa has plenty of it.
Alex Hall, James Jefferson, Anthony Barboza and Kaden Barton are the team’s top pitchers, but there are several other players who could see time on the mound as well.
“We have a lot of pitching,” Sheets said. “I’ve been there before as an assistant coach, so I know we need all the pitching we can get. Our biggest strength is pitching. Our defense has been good lately, too.”
Zach Truitt has been a strong contact and power hitter for an Iowa offense that surged in the state tournament. Evan Becker and Alex Hall have also provided solid bats for Grandview.
“Our bats came alive in the state tournament,” Sheets said. “When we played in the district tournament, we weren’t on fire like we’re capable of being, but we started to come around.”
Last summer, South Laurel fell just short of advancing to the Central Region Tournament.
“It’s been a long time (since South Laurel reached the region tournament), at least 20 years, I think,” Kentucky manager Steve Byrd said. “Of course, most of us weren’t around or involved then. It’s an exciting thing for us. We’ve been hoping to make it since we were runner-up in state last year. We were disappointed we didn’t make it last year. From the day that season ended, our goal was to get back to the (state) championship game and win it.”
South Laurel returns the majority of the players from last year’s state runner-up team.
“We had another year to practice and develop our skills and another year of physical maturity, which makes a big difference for some of these kids,” Byrd said.
Kentucky has had a strong pitching staff behind three players — Harrison Byrd, Dylan Dixon and Lucas Mullins — who have varsity high school experience.
“Our high school team has been really young,” Steve Byrd said. “Typically, these kids wouldn’t play varsity, but they’ve been thrust in because they had to be. It’s been a disadvantage in some way, but at the same time, they have pitched in big innings, have big game experience and have faced some tough competition. They’ve had to mature a little faster than others.
“It gives us a lot of confidence when we put them on the mound.”
The pitching staff has been backed up by an offense that has averaged double-digit runs.
Byrd, Dixon, Mullins, Ayden Smith and Ashton Garland have been Kentucky’s top hitters.
“They’ve matured and gotten bigger and stronger,” Steve Byrd said. “We’ve done a lot of stuff to try to build up muscle and strength. We’ve done things to give them reps and we’re seeing the results of that.”
Southern Little League West
Last year’s Central Region champions are back.
After going to the World Series a summer ago, coach Jim Passinault and the Southern Little League West team want to bring another Central Region banner back to Grand Rapids, Mich.
“We’re very honored and kind of lucky to get out of the Michigan state tournament,” Passinault said. “This is the fourth year in a row our Senior League team has the won the state tournament. We’re kind of building a tradition in terms of Southern Little League winning state.
“The strength seems to be the leadership of the guys who were there last year. We have two guys — Patrick Burns and Alex Kolk — who were on the team last year that ended up winning the Central Region and went to the World Series. We got some good experience and leadership from our 16 year olds.”
This year’s team will rely on Kolk and Luke Aarclema to deliver as starting pitchers and John Passinault to take the mound in relief.
When it comes to batting, Aarclema is the guy to start the Michigan offense.
“He’s our lead-off hitter and he does a really good job of going deep in the count,” Jim Passinault said. “He’s a really good contact hitter. It doesn’t matter if he’s going against a crafty pitcher or a power pitcher, he seems to find a way to get a hold of them. He has good speed on the base paths. He’s definitely the player that gets our offense going.”
Josh Klug, the No. 3 hitter, is a left-handed batter who can put the ball in the gaps, while Aiden Gardner — also the team’s catcher — and Aiden Stadel have been hot hitters this summer.
“We definitely need a little bit of luck,” Jim Passinault said. “We’re not going to overpower people. We’re not going to hit home runs. We don’t have kids who throw in the high 80s. We have to play really solid defense, put the bat on the ball without striking out a lot and throw strikes ourselves.
“This is fun. We have a young team and we’re probably the underdogs. But, the kids are hungry and looking forward to playing.”
Lacomo East Little League
The Lacomo East team plans to use a mix of speed and power to make its way through the Central Region.
After falling one run short of the World Series in Little League and a game short of the final tournament in Junior League, the Missouri representative from Concordia wants this to be the year it makes it through.
“We’re a family. That’s how we play ball everyday,” said Missouri coach Justin Tichenor, who has been with Lacomo East for seven years. “We’re really talented, too. We have speed, power, pitching and the best catcher around in Coy Smith. We have a lot of things going for us.
“They’re hungry to win. Little League had an age structure change last year, which took three guys off of the team — Georgie Ortizan, Logan Deal and Gage Sullivan. They couldn’t play with us last year and we really needed them. We have those three guys back this year.”
Smith is also a top pitcher for Missouri along with Sett Hoffman and Logan Dean, who Tichenor said could all be a No. 1 arm on any given day.
Tichenor likes his pitching rotation, which could send 10 different guys to the mound and his batting lineup, which swung for the fences in the state tournament.
“Small ball, no, but we have speed and power,” Tichenor said. “Pierson Tichenor has been knocking the cover off of the ball. He hit a home run in the state tournament and a few that went foul which still haven’t come down.
“Andrew Kueck has speed and power all together in a small package. He’s been banging it off of the fence all summer long. If he gets on base, you can’t get him out because he’s so fast.”
Justin Tichenor said the team wouldn’t be where it’s at without the community, the player’s parents and his assistant coaches Matt Smith and Gallen Kueck.
This may be the first time baseball fans have seen Maumee in the Senior League Central Region Tournament, but it’s not the first time this group has been to this level of play.
In the previous two summers, this collection of talent has represented Ohio in the Junior League and the Little League Central Region tournaments.
“You always go (into these tournaments) with a lot of apprehension and a lot of anticipation,” said Ohio coach Jim Durliat, who has four players who have been in all three Central Region tournaments. “Being there before, the only advantages that gives you is that you know how it’s going to work and you know the competition is going to be tough. You know that you have to be on your A game.
“Other than the experience of being there before, I don’t think it gives us any competitive advantage other than our kids play well under pressure, too.”
Ohio’s pitching staff is six deep with Andrew Durliat, Dylan Hamilton, Bryaden Meeks and Jayden Michalak but Caleb Loboschefski and Eli Seiler are the team’s go-to guys on the mound.
At the plate, Durliat looks for the top of his order to shine, including No. 2 hitter Josh Duling, No. 3 hitter Eli Seiler, cleanup hitter Meeks and Dylan Riley, who bats in the No. 5 spot.
“Our teamwork will help us in the tournament,” Durliat said. “They’ve put it in a lot of hard work. They’re a great group of kids and they’re hard working kids. They’ve been together for awhile, they feed off of each other and play really well together.”
West Madison has been in the Central Region Tournament for nine of the last 10 years, so it’s a goal for each upcoming team to maintain the tradition.
“The guys are excited about it,” Wisconsin manager Jerry Schmitt said. “I was coach for the team that went in 2017 with my older son. It really sells itself. Once you go, it’s addictive and you want to go back. They do a great job with the tournament. It’s really special.
“It really helps when guys are on the fence on whether or not they want to play. (Returning players) get them to come out and add to the tradition.”
West Madison returns Steve Callahan and Henry Severson from last year’s squad. Callahan is the team’s starting centerfielder, while Severson is the No. 1 pitcher and shortstop.
Wisconsin has relied heavily on its offense to return to the region tournament as it smacked seven home runs in three state games.
“So far, our hitting has been really solid,” Schmitt said. “We scored 12 or more runs in the three games we played at state. We can hit the ball really well. Not that our pitching and defense haven’t been good also, but it’s hard to argue with scoring double-digit runs every time out.”
Along with Severson, Cam Broderick, Michael Osterberg, Tyler Schmitt and Jacob Mahoney will log innings on the mound.
“We’ll use a lot of guys,” Jerry Schmitt said. “We have some guys with good experience pitching. Having four games in three days and possibly seven games in five days, we’re going to need to use all of them.”