If the American Legion state baseball tournament comes down to pitching -- and most tournaments do -- coach Rick Houston is confident the Licking County Athletics/St. Louisville Post 804 team has enough to make a run at a second championship in five years.

If the American Legion state baseball tournament comes down to pitching -- and most tournaments do -- coach Rick Houston is confident the Licking County Athletics/St. Louisville Post 804 team has enough to make a run at a second championship in five years.

"We've got (Alex) Van Dine and (Michael) Boichan in the mix (for starting assignments). And Bryan Large, the way he's pitched lately, he's in there, too," Houston said. "There's Chase (Houston) and Drew (Ryan). We've certainly got some options."

Even without the availability of Michael Sandman and Cole Blake for much of the summer, both of whom have been plagued by elbow problems, the A's consistently pitched well enough to return to Athens for the first time since winning the state title in 2005. Games begin Monday with a double-elimination format for the 12 participants, who include defending-champion Sandusky Post 83 out of District 5.

The A's are 25-7 after capturing the District 6 title with a 4-3 victory over Prospect Post 368 on July 18 in Sparta. Van Dine pushed his pitching record to 4-0 and his team-leading innings total to 44.1 with a complete-game effort. He also leads a versatile staff with four saves. Large is 5-0 with one save while Boichan is 3-3 with a save. Ryan is 4-0 and Chase Houston 1-1.

"One of the toughest things has been deciding when to take them out," said pitching coach Mike Saalfield, who is in his first summer with the A's but has helped Heath High School win a pair of Division III state championships since 2002. "But then we've got another starter-like kid ready to come in late in the game, too."

Their success has enabled infielders Ryan, Chase Houston and others to focus more on their hitting and defense. The A's made four errors behind Van Dine in the district final but also turned four double plays, two of which followed errors. Sandman (.400), Houston (.388), Steven Kidwell (.375), Michael Ghiloni (.356), Matt Lewis (.345), Ryan (.333) and Nate Hopkins (.333) were the leaders in batting average entering that game.

Moreover, Jason Holman drove in the deciding run with an eight-inning sacrifice fly against Post 368 while Jesse Hughes had a hit in his first five at-bats during the district tournament. Holman replaced Hughes at catcher in the district final after Hughes was hit by a foul tip, but coach Houston said the team's overall health is good heading to Athens.

"We're hitting the ball really well," coach Houston said. "When your eight-hole hitter starts out 5-for-5, well, that says something right there.

"But our offense has struggled at times while other times nobody can throw the ball by us. That's the game of baseball right there. Hitting comes and goes so you have to be able to win with pitching and defense."

•STATE SCHEDULE -- A blind draw will be held during the traditional leadoff dinner, which begins at 5 p.m. today in the Nelson Commons Banquet Hall.

All teams will play Monday at either 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. Games will be held at Dalton Field, Athens High School in The Plains, Alexander High School and Ohio University's Bob Wren Stadium and Trautwein Field. The 23-game schedule concludes with the title game at 9:30 a.m. Friday at Wren Stadium, with a second final to follow if necessary.

Former Major League Baseball pitcher Tim Belcher, a Sparta native and one-time American Legion standout who played for the Cincinnati Reds among seven big-league teams, will be the guest speaker at the banquet.

•LOCALLY -- Pickerington Post 283 and Grove City Post 164 are central Ohio's other representatives. Pickerington, which defeated Athens Post 21 9-8 in the District 8 final on Jake Sullivan's grand slam in the eighth inning, is 34-11. Grove City is 30-8 after defeating Hilliard (Davidson) Post 614A 11-4 for the District 12 title.

•ON DECK -- The state champion advances to play in the Great Lakes Regional on Aug. 6-10 in Appleton, Wis. The other participating states are Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

The American Legion World Series will be played Aug. 14-18 in Fargo, N.D. Former major leaguers Jeff Kent and Luis Gonzalez are expected to participate in the event's first live Internet broadcast.

"Unfortunately, with the way the media is in Ohio and other states now, most of the smaller radio stations have been bought up by the big chains and don't really cover the tournaments like they used to," state-tournament director Gerald White said. "In the so-called 'old days,' if Portsmouth was in the state tournament they'd have stations (in Athens) from there and the surrounding towns, too. It's just not that way anymore."

At a glance

Below are the participants for the American Legion state tournament:

DISTRICT TEAM

1 Napoleon Post 300

2 Lima Post 96

3 Piqua Post 184

4 Mt. Carmel Post 72

5 Sandusky Post 83

6 Licking County Post 804

7 Portsmouth Post 23

8 Pickerington Post 283

9 Wickliffe Post 7

10 Alliance Post 166

11 Beverly-Lowell Post 750

12 Grove City Post 164