Little League Baseball is a summer staple engrained in the landscape of American sports. Every August, the sports media giant ESPN telecasts the world’s top young ballplayers playing in the Little League World Series for a true world championship.

If the Hermiston 11-12 year-olds want some international face time, they need to start with a win on Sunday in Madras.

The Oregon District 5 Little League baseball and softball tournaments will be held at the Juniper Hills Sports Complex and Madras High School beginning Saturday, but the Hermiston club received a first-round bye.

They will begin the tournament at 6 p.m. Sunday against the winner of the Hood River/Bend South game, and manager Jeff Schwirse feels pretty good about his team’s chances to make a run deep into the double-elimination tournament.

“I think we can do well,” he said. “It’s a good group of kids. They have been together for a couple years so the chemistry is good. It should be interesting.”

Schwirse said while they don’t have a “dominant” pitcher, they’ve got plenty of solid pitchers that can get the job done if they keep the ball low in the strike zone and pitch to contact.

“Pitching and defense is going to be the big thing,” Schwirse said. “It’s Little League, you’re going to give up hits and some runs. We just need to make the routine plays and we can be competitive.”

Championship teams always make the routine plays — and most of the hard ones, too — but they still have to be able to hit the ball with some pop, too. And Hermiston has plenty of pop in its bats, led by Cole Campbell, Daniel Gossler and Lukas Tolan.

During the regular season (not including traveling team games), the trio combined for 14 homers with Campbell accounting for half of the total.

Gossler parked four on the year and Tolan three, which could potentially create a middle of the batting order that few pitchers would want to face.

Overall, team members belted 23 dingers during the season.

“We’re swinging the bats pretty well right now, from top to bottom,” Schwrise said.

With any youth team, fluctuations in play can strike at any moment, whether a team is playing out of its mind or underachieving, but Schwirse is optimistic with the his group yet knows a bad run of play could knock them out before they get going.

“They’re 12 years old,” he said. “If they show up and play like they can, they can compete with anyone.”

Schwirse will be assisted by his son, Tyler Schwrise, and Casey Tolan.

Three other Hermiston baseball teams are competing for a district championship as well.

The 9-10 year-old all-star team, managed by Jeremy Joseph, will kick off tournament play at 2:45 p.m. today against John Day River, a combination of the former Willow Creek and Deschutes Little Leagues.

If the team wins, they will take on Warm Springs Nation at 2:45 p.m. Sunday.

The 10-11 year-old squad, skippered by Denis Slagel, jumped into play bright and early this morning at 8:45 a.m. against Bend South, a traditionally tough team in District 5.

A win this morning would put the club in the second round at 2:45 p.m. Sunday against the winner of John Day River and The Dalles. A loss will land the team in the first elimination game at 8:30 a.m. Sunday.

The Juniors team, for players ages 13-14, doesn’t get started until July 4.

They will take on Redmond at 11 a.m. in the tournament’s first game at Madras High School.

The team is managed by Jim Sexton and assisted by Jeff Gritz.

With a win, the team will play Crook County at 9 a.m. Thursday. A loss puts the team in an elimination game at 12:15 p.m. Sunday.

Columbia, comprising Stanfield/Echo, Boardman, Irrigon and Umatilla leagues, will send a pair of baseball teams to the tournament as well.

They have an 11-12 year-old team and a Juniors team entered. The 11-12 team will begin in the bracket’s second game of the tournament, at 8:30 a.m., against Sisters.

The Juniors team will take on the host team, Jefferson County, at 5 p.m. July 4.

SOFTBALL

Due to numbers of interested players, Hermiston Little League will send just one softball team to the District 5 tournament, a 9-10 year-old club.

Manager Aaron Feigum said his team’s practices have been “going pretty good,” but the team is going in kind of blind since it’s tough to gauge what the competition has when all the teams are so spread out geographically.

“I know Columbia will have a pretty good pitcher from Stanfield, but we’ve got a couple pretty good arms, too, so I think it will be pretty competitive.”

Feigum said if his pitchers “stay in a groove” and just keep throwing strikes, they should be able to pick up some wins.

Feigum said Bailee Noland will be the starting pitcher, followed up by reliever Ashley Cameron.

Along with the pitching from Noland and Cameron, Saige Nelson and Madison Feigum have been performing well at the plate and should be key players offensively.

The team will take on a combined team of Bend South and South Central (La Pine and surrounding area) at 11:30 a.m. Saturday to open the tournament.

A win gives the team a day off and an 11:30 a.m. game Monday. A loss puts the team in an elimination game Sunday at 8:30 a.m.

Columbia’s softball contingent will be mostly a combined effort with John Day River. The 9-10 and 11-12 year-old teams will both be a combination of the two leagues while the Juniors team will be a sole Columbia venture.

The 9-10 team will play the winner of Hood River and Warm Springs Nation at 8:30 a.m. Sunday while the 11-12 team also has a first-day bye and will play the winner of the Bend/Hood River.

The Columbia Juniors team will take on Redmond at 11 a.m. Saturday to open the tournament.

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