NORTH CANTON The Canton Division I district bracket isn’t the kind of place you want to hang out if you’re looking for a relaxing, stress-free day of postseason baseball.
The district is annually among the most balanced and deep in Northeast Ohio and with all seven Federal League teams once again in the same bracket, this year looks to be more of the same for the Hoover Vikings and the other 10 teams who will vie for the district title and a spot in the regional semifinals.
“I think the toughest hing is, if you do happen to play a Federal League team, you’ve already played them twice (in the regular season),” Hoover head coach Jeff Hite said. “It’s very difficult to play a team twice, let alone twice in the regular season and once in the tournament. No matter who you play, though, it’s a very good tournament bracket and there are no easy games.”
Hite and his team know that better than anyone. Their side of the bracket is entirely comprised of Federal League teams and while top-seeded Jackson landed in the other side of the bracket, the Vikings still have the likes of Green, Perry and GlenOak to contend with before they could even reach the district final.
“Jackson is obviously very good, a lot talent top to bottom, and Green has three Division I (college) lefties, with the (Jack) Zimmerman kid at the top and they are depth-wise, the best pitching staff in the tournament, while the most well-rounded top to bottom, you’d say is Jackson,” Hite said.
The scheduling setup of the tournament works in favor of teams wanting to feature their top starting pitchers as much as possible, with teams that received a first-round bye having a their sectional final game and a potential district final contest separated by six days.
That means plenty of time to rest and although the district semifinals and final being on consecutive days means choosing one or the other for a team’s ace to start, being able to throw a dominant number one starter twice is a valuable benefit.
“If you have a legitimate number one and you got a bye in the first round, you can pitch guy in sectional final and district semis and he’s got six days off to recover,” Hite said.
The bracket lays out in interesting fashion for Hoover especially, as its final two league games were against GlenOak, which landed an opening-round game against Canton McKinley, setting up the possibility of three games in a single week against the Vikings.
The Hoover offense will have a big say in the team’s postseason fortunes, as leading hitter Nick Binnie brings a .370 average into the final week of the season hitting in the third spot in the lineup. Along with Nathan Fox, Donny Genetin and Jordan Hite, all of whom are hitting .350 or above, the Vikings have productive bats to rely upon, although there have been a few games this season when the offense has hit rough patches.
If the Vikings find themselves in a low-scoring game in the postseason, their pitching staff has several strong arms to keep them in the contest. Sophomore pitcher Brody Ware has established himself at the top of the rotation, with veteran pitchers such as Fox and Eric Sarbaugh also capable of taking the mound in pressure situations.
Who’s on the mound also has a big impact on the defense behind them, as Fox and Sarbaugh are able defenders who can play other positions when they’re not pitching. Finding the right mix to navigate the district tournament will be the focal point for all 11 teams in the district when it comes to the tournament and emerging victorious from a bracket that includes three teams with at least 14 wins.
As the third seed, Hoover has a tough road ahead of it, but it’s all part of the atmosphere in one of the region’s deepest districts.
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