West Side eliminated by Michigan in regional heartbreaker

Hamilton West Side’s Micaden Stephens (11) knocks a base hit into the outfield Thursday during an International Little League Great Lakes Regional contest against Essexville-Hampton (Mich.) at the Reuben F. Glick Little League Center’s Stokely Field. Stephens had both Hamilton hits in a 1-0 defeat. DOUG MCSCHOOLER/SPECIAL TO THE JOURNAL-NEWS
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Hamilton West Side’s Micaden Stephens (11) knocks a base hit into the outfield Thursday during an International Little League Great Lakes Regional contest against Essexville-Hampton (Mich.) at the Reuben F. Glick Little League Center’s Stokely Field. Stephens had both Hamilton hits in a 1-0 defeat. DOUG MCSCHOOLER/SPECIAL TO THE JOURNAL-NEWS

Hamilton West Side and Essexville-Hampton combined for 23 hits and 23 runs when they faced each other Sunday.

What a difference 96 hours makes.

In a win-or-go-home matchup Thursday evening in the International Little League Great Lakes Regional, the teams combined for one run and five hits. Unfortunately for West Side, that one run was scored by the Michigan state champions, and Hamilton’s season ended abruptly with a 1-0 loss at the Reuben F. Glick Little League Center’s Stokely Field.

Micaden Stephens was stellar for Hamilton, allowing three hits and run run in 4.2 innings despite walking four. But he was outdueled by the Michigan’s Tommy Szczepanski, who threw 5.2 shutout innings, allowing one hit, striking out nine and walking two.

“We knew going in that Ohio was tough, and honestly I didn’t think I had another pitcher that could beat them,” Essexville coach Matt Irrer said. “It’s pretty nice when you need only one run to win.”

Szczepanski said he wasn’t nervous before pitching the biggest game of his life.

“I treat every game like another game,” he said. “I just relax and take deep breaths.”

Essexville scored in the fourth inning. After a one-out walk and a wild pitch, Alex Czyzewski doubled to deep center field.

Hamilton threatened in the fifth with two on and two outs, but Szczepanski escaped the jam with his eighth strikeout.

West Side threatened again in the sixth, putting the winning run on base with one out. After Landyn Vidourek reached on an error, Szczepanski left after reaching his pitch limit. Stephens singled off Blaise Millar to move the tying run into scoring position, but a double play ended the threat, the game and West Side’s summer.

“I thought we would pull it off there in the last inning,” West Side coach Tim Nichting said. “Credit to their kid, the way he pitched, but I thought it was set up there for us to do what we needed to do.”

Stephens labored in the middle innings as his pitch count quickly rose. Meanwhile, Szczepanski was able to keep his pitch count down for much of the game. Nichting said he told his team to “look for the fastball.”

“He threw strikes. He pitched well,” Nichting said of Szczepanski. “His offspeed, everything was on for him.”

Essexville moves on to face Kenosha American (Wis.) on Friday at 5 p.m.

“We made a long run,” Nichting said. “I’m very proud of all my kids. We battled to the end and had them on the ropes there at the end. We needed a little luck.”

Essexville-Hampton 000-100—1-3-2

Hamilton West Side 000-000—0-2-1

WP — Tommy Szczepanski; LP — Micaden Stephens; S — Blaise Millar

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