Eagerness is overflowing for Little League All-Star softball managers Brad Hamilton and Jim Crosier.
They've seen what their girls can do at the district level. Now, they're ready to find out how they stack up against the best competition the state has to offer. It all starts this weekend.
Both the Ashland American 9- and 10-year-old All-Stars and the South Shore 11-12s are headed to Springfield, where each will represent District 6 at the Washington County Little League Complex.
Both were similarly dominant during their District 6 tournament runs, and both are paced by pitchers who have virtually the same first name.
Kenzi Robinson tossed in three of Ashland American's four postseason wins to this point. The right-hander dealt a three-hitter against Russell-Flatwoods, striking out nine of the 15 batters she faced in a four-inning, mercy-rule victory.
Robinson also contributed heavily to Ashland American's remarkable hitting numbers. She went 3-for-3 with three RBIs in a 6-3 win over South Shore that earned the team a state tournament trip.
According to Hamilton, Ashland American had a .478 team batting average in the district tournament. The All-Stars outscored opponents 58-14.
Ashland American will begin play in the double-elimination state tournament on Sunday at 2 p.m. against either Marion County or the District 2 champion.
"Our short-term goal is to win that first game," Hamilton said. "Everything else is just icing on the cake."
After dropping both state contests last year, the bulk of the group has returned for a chance at redemption.
The top of Ashland American's batting order has been terrific. The first five starting-lineup hitters are a combined 30-for-51 in All-Star action. Kaythan Baer is 6-for-11 with nine runs scored and five walks, Tabitha Cassidy is 8-for-11 with seven runs, Camryn Cassidy is 5-for-8, Lauren Spears is 5-for-10 including two inside-the-park home runs, and Robinson is 6-for-11.
Hamilton has been impressed with his team's defense as well, namely the outfield.
"We've made some catches in the outfield that you don't expect at this age," he said.
Ashland American will undoubtedly lean on Robinson in the circle. She won't allow any kind of pressure, Hamilton predicts, to affect her.
"Her pitching was heads above everybody else (in district play)," Hamilton said. "She doesn't get frustrated about anything. If she throws a bad pitch, her demeanor doesn't change … she's a special 10-year-old."
According to Hamilton, Robinson has five different pitches at her disposal.
Mykenzie Crosier, South Shore's 11-12s standout pitcher, has also grown accustomed to mowing down opposing hitters. She'll be in the circle when South Shore takes on North Laurel on Saturday at 2 p.m.
South Shore also went 4-0 in the District 6 tournament, tallying 41 total runs while allowing only six.
Crosier turned in four perfect innings in the title-deciding game against Raceland-Worthington. She threw a complete, six-inning game and limited Raceland to two hits in a 5-4 South Shore win.
Jim Crosier also managed the 9-10 bunch that went 1-2 in state play two years ago. Only three girls who were on that roster are absent from this year's group.
"That's two years difference so they're more mature," said Jim Crosier. "They're acting a little different this year. Their spirits are better. They want to win it all."
Crosier likes all aspects of his club, but he has placed an emphasis on hitting over the final few practices before Saturday.
"We like to crowd the plate, and we don't like looking at the first strike," Crosier said. "If it's there, we hit it. We don't like to give one away."
Crosier said he likes South Shore's chances because of the chemistry produced by several years of playing together. He has coached most of them since T-ball, he said.
Both teams have been busy with fundraising in order to afford lodging, meals and travel expenses for the trip.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.