After dismantling district and state competition, the team of 11-12-year-olds will see what tests lie ahead in Joplin, Mo.
By JAYME RAMSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CANFIELD -- Every spring, about 10,000 softball teams affiliated with Little League take the field.
When the regular season ends, some 2,000 All-Star teams are formed for players ages 11-12.
Today, 50 teams scattered throughout the country have qualified for Little League regional competition. Ohio's representative hails from Canfield.
Since district play began in early July, Canfield has compiled a 16-0 record in the Little League tournament. Thursday, Canfield won the state title 7-0 over Tallmadge in Huber Heights, near Dayton.
The players from Canfield Baseball Club open regional play Monday against the North Dakota/South Dakota representative in Joplin, Mo.
The regional winner will earn a berth in the Little League World Series that will be played in Portland, Ore.
Canfield team members are Tricia Bettura, Nikka Bonamase, Christie Cole, Brittany Danilov, Bryanne Halfhill, Jill Halfhill, Kalie Luklan, Kaylie McMurray, Courtney Rothbauer, Kristen Stahl, Lauren Sulick and Melissa West.
Manager Chris Cole is assisted by coaches Joe Bettura, Brian Halfhill, Rob Luklan and Eric Rothbauer.
At the regional, Canfield will play five games in the pool play tournament.
Canfield is in the Central Division with the Dakota team, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky and a Missouri team.
The American Division has another Missouri team, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska.
After pool play ends, the top two teams in each division advance to a playoff round.
On Saturday, the Central winner will play the American runner-up, while the Central runner-up will play the American champion. Saturday's winners will face off next Sunday for the Portland trip.
The team that wins the regional tournament will be flown from Missouri to Portland immediately after the game to get ready for softball's Little League World Series.
In Portland, the four U.S. regional champions will play teams from Latin America, Europe and Asia.
Not even close
In the District Two tournament, Canfield outscored Mahoning Valley opponents 57-7. At the state tournament, Canfield outscored their opponents 51-8.
Fundamentally sound, these girls play the game tough with no fear. Not only can they hit home runs, but they can bunt, they can hit-and-run, they can steal and they can play defense.
The balance of the team is what might surprise some of Canfield's competition at the regional tournament.
Looking at the number of runs the team has scored, it might be easy to overlook the defensive numbers.
In 16 games Canfield's three pitchers -- Sulick, Danilov and Bettura -- yielded only 15 runs.
Cole said Bettura, Danilov and Sulick were accomplished pitchers during the regular season and have stepped it up in the postseason.
The team has been practicing since the completion of the regular season at the end of June and it is evident that team chemistry is something these players have.
"It is a lot easier to play with people who are your good friends," Courtney Rothbauer said.
This is Canfield Baseball Club's third state softball championship in four years and second appearance in a regional. In 1999, Canfield's 13-14 team managed by Bill Garrett won state and finished third in the regional tournament that used a double-elimination format.
In 2000, eight girls from this year's 11-12 team played on Canfield's 10-year-old Little League champion that also was managed by Chris Cole.
This year's team is entering uncharted waters because the 10-year-old bracket doesn't have regionals.
"We've never seen these people play. We don't know if they're good or not," Christie Cole said. "We usually play our game and do our best and it comes out a victory."
Out of town
Saturday, the team's families began the 14-hour drive to Joplin.
Canfield's pool play schedule is: Tuesday vs. Kentucky; Wednesday vs. Wisconsin; Thursday vs. Michigan; and Friday vs. Missouri.
One familiar face will be watching closely in Joplin -- Boardman umpire Rich Randall, who was selected last December for the regional tournament.
Randall applied for the position after eight years of umpiring and will umpire three games a day at the tournament.