IRONTON - It's well known in Lawrence County, Ohio, that football rules in Ironton but a team of Little League all-stars will have the entire city with baseball on its mind in the coming weeks.
Ironton defeated Portsmouth West for the District 11 championship and earn a spot in the Ohio state tournament beginning Saturday in New Albany's Bevelhymer Park. New Albany is located approximately 15 miles northeast of Columbus.
Ironton will face Galion at 4 p.m. with the winner facing Boardman Sunday in the double-elimination tournament. The loser of Saturday's game will play on Monday at 5:30 p.m.
"I don't think they realize just yet what this means," Ironton head coach Ty Davis said. "Once they're on the field their entire focus is on getting better."
The players will get a chance to work out some of those nerves with a Saturday morning practice before its game.
According to Davis, some of the players on the team were on Ironton's 9-11 year-old All-Stars that played in Dayton two seasons ago but none were on the team that played on the major division squad that played in last year's state tournament in North Canton.
The team has already had to overcome some adversity after losing key player Carson Freeman to appendicitis during the district tournament for a couple of games.
"The team pulled together and the kids didn't miss a beat," Davis said.
"We had eight kids with an RBI and four with multiple RBI," Davis said of those games with Freeman out. Once Freeman returned just in time for the games against Portsmouth West, Ironton was at full strength.
Freeman, shortstop and pitcher on the team, said he was excited to get back and play following his illness and said despite his experience in playing for the Dayton-bound team, he's nervous about playing in the state tournament.
"I'm really excited to represent Ironton and Lawrence County up there," said Freeman, whose father is an assistant for the team.
The Fighting Tigers stormed through the Lawrence County bracket of all-star games undefeated, finally earning its way to the district championship with a 12-5 win over Fairland on July 6. That set up a best of three championship with Portsmouth West, the Scioto County bracket winner.
Ironton took the championship in two games by scores of 16-0 and 12-2.
Davis credited Ironton High School football coach Ty Pendleton for the work he's done in rallying the community behind its youth. In one day two of the team mothers organized a car wash and donation drive that raised $1,400 to help with trip expenses, Davis said.
Other fund raisers that have taken place this week have been raffles for garden stones, a photograph session with a local portrait studio and other items designed to offset the expenses.
The community effort has already been evident from the support the softball teams in Ironton have had with their tournaments and now baseball is reaping the benefits as well.
"Winning," Davis said, "is contagious."
If it wins in the Ohio state tournament, Ironton will advance to the Central Region tournament for Little League International which is followed by the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
After Freeman, members of the team include Jase Williams, Evan Aldridge, Jason Maddy, Ethan Sutton, Nick Sites, Carson Lyons, Tyson Harvey, Carson Willis, Brycen Mullins, Tanner Kleinman, Jacob Hughes, Dalton Lewis, Dawson Philyaw, Gabe Fitzpatrick and Luke Fitzpatrick.