Hermiston coach Justin Simmons said it has been difficult to keep his Little League team engaged this past month in waiting for the 9-10-11-year-old state tournament, but with its first game approaching Saturday, the team is ready to go.
“It was hard to take that much time off,” said Simmons, whose team won the District 3 title June 26 with a 4-1 win over Pendleton. “We would go hard for two or three days, then let them have a four-day weekend to let them be kids in the summer.”
Hermiston will open play at 9:30 a.m. Saturday against Southeast Portland in Klamath Falls.
Other first-round games include Lake Oswego vs. Hollywood-Rose City, Bend North vs. Sprague, and host Klamath Falls vs. Grants Pass National.
The opening ceremonies are at 5 p.m. today.
The Hermiston team has been together for two years and Simmons said team chemistry is one of its strengths.
“They are really tight and they genuinely care about each other,” Simmons said. “They care about baseball and doing Hermiston proud.”
There are no superstars on the Hermiston team, according to Simmons. In fact, not one player has a home run to his credit.
“We have a bunch of utility players,” Simmons said. “They can play anywhere, and they all are a vital part of our team.”
Like most baseball coaches, announcing a starter was not something Simmons was ready to do just yet.
“We have four guys, that if they are on the hill, we have our best games. Our horse on the mound is Ryder Wilson. In big games, if Ryder pitches well for us, we have a bit more of an edge.”
Though the tournament is for 9-11 year olds, the Hermiston team has no 9-year-olds on its roster.
“We rely on our 11-year-olds to set the pace,” Simmons said. “They take the lead and the rest of the team follows.”
Simmons, a graduate of Hermiston High School, shares coaching duties with Blake Philippi, a graduate of Riverside High School, and Kirby Warner, who graduated from Crook County.
“They are good friends,” Simmons said. “Kirby and I played baseball together at Lane Community College. It’s awesome to have a group of coaches who care about the team and the game as much as I do.”