NEW ALBANY — New Albany could be as close as four wins away from the Little League World Series.
But you won't hear anyone on the team — not the players or the coaches — talking about Williamsport.
New Albany is in "take it one game at a time" mode entering the Great Lakes Region tournament, which begins Sunday against St. Matthews (Ky.) in the opening round at Westfield.
"We'll play it game by game," New Albany manager Brian Jackson said. "If we win the first one, we'll go after the second one. We're really focused on Kentucky now."
The philosophy has worked for the District 5 and Indiana state champions so far. Even with the league's first actual World Series appearance in sight, New Albany is focused on the competition at Grand Sports Park.
"We set a goal to win districts, we did that. We set a goal to win state, we did that," Jackson said. "Now we set a new goal. We're now focused on Step 3 and we haven't even talked about Step 4."
With the league winning four state championships in five years, the current New Albany players always have the expectation to win, but they've also witnessed how tough the Great Lakes field has been over those years.
"We have the mentality that no one there is better than us," said infielder Cody Jackson — the son of the head coach. "Hopefully, we can make it decently far, but if we don't, it will still be a great experience."
The good news is New Albany played perhaps its best baseball of the summer in its final day at the state finals. After dropping its first game, 6-5 in nine innings to Evansville Highland, New Albany beat Munster in the semifinal round and Highland in the state championship by a combined 14-3 last Friday at Decatur Little League in Indianapolis.
"We weren't going to let anybody take it from us," New Albany ace Chase Loesch said.
Now, New Albany will be joined by five other state champion, including defending regional champion Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores of Michigan. On New Albany's side of the bracket is St. Matthews and New Albany (Ohio). Wisconsin is represented by Wausau and Illinois by Tri-Cities from West Dundee.
"In my opinion, all the teams are really good," Jackson said. "It's going to be a battle every game."
The double-elimination tournament begins against Kentucky state champion St. Matthews — a league just over 20 miles away from New Albany's park. The teams — though not always the complete rosters — have met this summer for a couple of very competitive games.
"They've got a couple good hard throwers, [but] we faced hard throwers all through state and we were able to hit them," Brian Jackson said. "I don't think it's going to phase us much. I think we'll be right there with them."
With a win, New Albany would face New Albany (Ohio) in the second round. With a loss, it will drop into the elimination bracket. Whether New Albany or St. Matthews emerges from Sunday's 8 p.m. opening-round game, the victor will face the Ohio state champions, which will be playing their first game of the tournament, on Monday afternoon.
Usually that would be a disadvantage to the teams playing on Sunday, but Jackson says his team's pitching is deep enough to handle it.
"History does show that the teams with the bye in the first round are a little more successful because of pitching rules, but we're eight pitchers deep," Coach Jackson said. "We're probably going to need all of them to get deep in this [tournament]."
GREAT LAKES REGION
At Westfield, Grand Park Sports Complex
Sunday, Aug. 5
Game 1 — Tri-Cities (Ill.) vs. Grosse Pointe Woods-Shore (Mich.), 4 p.m.
Game 2 — New Albany (Ind.) vs. St. Matthews (Ky.), 8 p.m.
WINNERS' BRACKET SEMIFINALS
Monday, Aug. 6
Game 3 — Wausau (Wis.) vs. Tri-Cities (Ill.) or Grosse Pointe (Mich.), 10 a.m.
Game 4 — New Albany (Ohio) vs. New Albany (Ind.) or St. Matthews (Ky.), 1 p.m.
ELIMINATION BRACKET QUARTERFINALS
Tuesday, Aug. 7
Game 5 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 10 a.m. (losing team eliminated)
Game 6 — Game 2 loser vs. Game 3 loser, 7 p.m. (losing team eliminated)
WINNERS' BRACKET FINAL
Wednesday, Aug. 8
Game 7 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 2 p.m. (winning team advances to Great Lakes championship)
ELIMINATION BRACKET SEMIFINAL
Thursday, Aug. 9
Game 8 — Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 5 p.m.
ELIMINATION BRACKET FINAL
Friday, Aug. 10
Game 9 — Game 7 loser vs. Game 8 winner, 5 p.m. (winning team advances to Great Lakes Championship)
GREAT LAKES CHAMPIONSHIP
Saturday, Aug. 11
Game 7 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 5 p.m. (winning team advances to Little League World Series)