The Williamsport Nationals are out to discover new frontiers.
With that in mind, if you are going to blaze new trails, you might as well travel new paths.
The Nationals will be doing both this weekend when they compete in the Continental Amateur Baseball Association (CABA) World Series, starting Friday in Euclid, Ohio.
It is a new experience for Williamsport as they will be the first team from the Potomac Junior Legion Baseball League to venture into CABA competition and will be doing it with largely an inexperienced team.
“Last year’s team was experienced and was a joy,” said Williamsport manager David Clugston. “This year, they are trying to forge their own path. It has been interesting for us as coaches, but we are trying to help them grow and learn.”
The Nationals have qualified for their third straight trip to a World Series tournament. The first two years, Williamsport played in the National Amateur Baseball Federation’s (NABF) version of the tournament.
This year, the league decided to try dual memberships in the NABF and the CABA. Williamsport (23-16), by virtue of finishing second in the league, got its choice of the two tournaments to attend.
The Nationals chose the CABA over the NABF tournament in Knoxville, Tenn.
“It is a bigger tournament and teams from all over are coming in,” Clugston said. “We are guaranteed six games in pool play here, instead of only four. We liked the format better.”
There are many more opportunities for Williamsport in the 64-team tourament, which is for players 17 and under and will be played with high school rules.
The Nationals will play in two different pool play situations, starting with two games on Friday, beginning at 8 a.m., the first of six games in three days.
The pools will be reshuffled after three games. After Sunday’s play, the top 16 teams will advance to a double-elimination bracket tournament to decide the champion.
“Our second game will be against a team from Miami,” Clugston said. “It will be interesting to see how it goes since they play all year round.”
Williamsport will enter the tournament with only three returnees from the 2011 team — which went 37-7 — and only two of them are 17. The Nationals have hit the ball well, but depend on their pitching to win games.
Jon Britton (North Hagerstown) and Hunter McKinley (Hancock) lead the Nationals as a pair of “workhorse pitchers,” according to Clugston and are the two elderstatesmen at 17. Britton also plays the infield while McKinley is a shortstop.
Catcher James Shifler (Smithsburg) is the third returning player.
Two other pitchers are Wyatt Scriever and Riley Arnone (Williamsport).
“We have had good pitching this year,” Clugston said. “Our youth led to us letting a couple of games get away from us. The key for us is to play team defense to back our good pitching. We hit the ball well and score enough runs, but we need to play good defense.”
Williamsport seems to be the only team from Maryland in the tournament. Woodsboro, which won the Potomac league title, elected not to go because of a lack of players. Teams from Ohio, New York and the Miami area are included in the field.
So, Clugston would like to see Williamsport make a run in the CABA. It would be good for the league, but more importantly, good for the Nationals.
“We can compete if we play defense,” Clugston said. “We have played 39 games and have continued to improve. We are starting to jell as a unit because it takes time for all the kids who are playing at different schools to come together.
“We have consistently played in the World Series for three years. We’ll do well. We will go out and play the six games and get to Monday and see if we are in the final 16.”