BENNINGTON -- Bennington Babe Ruth 15U coach John Stalcup described his team's 2-1 win in the finals of the state tournament over Franklin County as a ‘heart attack.'
"They always seem to find a way to win," Stalcup said. "They're just really solid and they refuse to give up a lead."
Starting on Saturday, the 15Us take the next step, traveling to Newtown, Conn. for the opening game of the regional tournament. It's the first time in nearly a decade that the Babe Ruth squad -- combined of players from Bennington and Manchester -- has reached regionals.
"It's a big crowd, a big event," Stalcup said. "Coming from Manchester, we don't have a lot of state championships. But when we team up, we have a good area to draw from and it makes us that much better."
On the mound, the team is led by No. 1 starter Jon Iris, the winner in the finals last week, allowing one run in 6 1/3 innings.
In the seventh of the final, with the winning run on base, Stalcup called on reliever Austin Condo, who got the last two outs.
"A lot of 15U teams don't have a closer, but we do," Stalcup said. "He got a grounder to short and we went berserk on the field."
Practice this week has returned to the fundamentals, Stalcup said.
"We've been keeping it real simple, working on first-and-third plays, getting down bunts. We've also been setting up the [pitching] machine in the 70s and 80s [mph] to get them used to seeing the higher pitch speed," Stalcup said.
Even though the 15U team hasn't reached the regional round in a few years, more than half the team has regional experience, as the 14-year-olds won the 13U state tournament a year ago.
So, in an unusual turn, the 15-year-olds, who haven't been to regionals, are taking their cues from their younger teammates.
"The butterflies [for the younger guys] aren't there, and the 15s are solid baseball players," Stalcup said.
Shortshop Noah Normyle said it was an amazing feeling to win a state championship.
"We had a solid group of guys from the 13s team," Normyle said. "Doing it with the [15-year-old] guys was great."
As soon as the team won, plans went into motion to raise money for the team to stay at a hotel and travel to Connecticut. After give-back nights at McDonald's and Chili's in Bennington, the team has raised nearly $2,000 for the trip.
"The community has really come together," Stalcup said. "The parents have been really busy."
The team starts the tournament on Saturday at 3 p.m. against Connecticut, then will play Sunday at either noon or 6 p.m. depending if they win or lose.
While it's an honor to play in the tournament, Stalcup said, the team plans on being there the entire week -- winning all their games along the way.
"I told the kids that we're not going to regionals to swim at the hotel pool," Stalcup said. "They are that good and the talent won't blow their minds. We keep going, it's just not going to be the Banner talking to these kids."
If Bennington can make it through the New England gauntlet, a World Series appearance is the ultimate goal.
"It's a dream for us," Normyle said. "It would be a dream come true to go to Virginia."