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Little League: 'Gonna be close' when Four County plays in 10-12 District 2 tourney

Little League: 'Gonna be close' when Four County plays in 10-12 District 2 tourney
Four County 10-11 All-Stars second baseman Justin Nicholls throws home as Northwest Washington baserunners round the bases in the second inning of a 2016 Maryland State Little League tournament game in Elkton. (Steve Ruark / Carroll County Times)

Four County’s 10-12 All-Stars reached the Maryland District 2 Little League tournament championship game last summer for the first time in program history before falling short against Thurmont.

But the loss provided positive reinforcement for the future.

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Under the guidance of new manager Aaron Jansen, Four County is gearing up for a chance to get over the championship hump one year later.

The District 2 tourney, which uses a double-elimination format, begins Saturday and Four County starts its title pursuit at 6 p.m. with a first-round game against East Frederick. The game will take place at Russell Windsor Field in Mount Airy.

Four County usually draws from four counties — Carroll, Frederick, Howard, and Montgomery. However, this year’s team hails from just Carroll and Frederick.

Chemistry is often an interesting component with all-star teams. Four County returns two players from last year’s team — Stephen Curry and Justin Nicholls — along with a batch of 11 players selected from Four County’s regular season.

And while this will be the first time they’ll all be playing together as a cohesive unit, Jansen said meshing together shouldn’t be a problem. A lot of the players have been together since they were 10.

“It helps that they know each other quite a bit,” he said. “The chemistry is quite good between these kids.”

Four County relied on its offense throughout last year’s tournament, tallying 31 runs in four games, but Jansen said he thinks it’ll be different this time around.

“Our team is gonna win 4-3,” he said. “We’re not a ‘15-4’ capable team. When we win it’s gonna be close.”

Jansen said Four County will rely on pitching as its backbone throughout the tournament.

“We have some kids who can bring some good fastballs and bring some good change-ups,” he said. “I tell the pitcher, ‘Hey, you know the kids are gonna field the ball or they’re not, so you might as well throw strikes and find out.’”

The District 2 tourney gives teams a chance to maneuver their way through the consolation bracket. It’s how Four County reached the championship last year.

Jansen said if the All-Stars can stay in the winner’s bracket, they can live with their top four pitching options. But he stressed the importance of depth on the mound if team is dealt with a loss.

“We have 13 players on the roster and 12 of them can pitch realistically,” he said. “You have to be prepared.”

The District tournament runs through July 7 and marks the beginning of a grueling process for Four County and its competitors.

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From there it’s a chance to compete in the state tournament (hosted by District 1 this year in Western Maryland) and then on to the Mid-Atlantic regional tournament, Aug. 4-11 in Bristol, Connecticut.

The ultimate goal awaits in Williamsport, Pennsylvania — a chance to compete at the annual Little League World Series, Aug. 16-26.

Jansen’s role as a manager isn’t just limited to handling the batting order and pitch count. He’s there to provide constant support, an important part of the winning formula with this age group.

“When you come to these all-star games, [the players] sometimes can be a little surprised at the capability,” he said. “You just kind of give them a heads up that, ‘Hey, don’t be surprised if these kids are gonna score runs and don’t be surprised that they’re gonna hit the ball.’”

Four County is part of a tournament field with Brunswick, Upper Montgomery County, Lower Montgomery County, East Frederick, Thurmont, Mountain Valley, and Frederick National.

“Like all teams, this is a very tough tournament in that the winner of District 2 will have a chance to be very competitive at states,” Jansen said.

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