BENNINGTON -- All three Vermont Little League all-star teams -- the 9/10 year-olds, the 11/12s and the 15U Babe Ruth squad -- will make the trek north to represent the South starting today.
The 11/12s and Babe Ruth groups have their first games today at 1 p.m., at Burlington and Winooski, respectively, while the 9/10s are at 5 p.m. at St. Albans.
For the 11/12 team, it's the second year in a row making the tournament and the fourth time in the past five years.
But the local team has been shut out at the state level and the last time Bennington reached the regional tournament was in 1991.
"All three teams have a chance to win it," said Little League president Geoff Metcalfe. "We have a [11/12] team that can hit with any of the teams here. Seven of the 12 have had home runs this year."
Bennington reached the state tournament out of District 2, winning a seven-game series, 4-1, against Brattleboro. But to take the state title for the first time in two decades, they'll have to get past South Burlington, the two-time defending champion at the major division level.
"We have some good pitching and it's a deep team," Metcalfe said. "Other teams might have one or two better pitchers, but not as deep [as we are]."
Team members are Jackson Free, Keegan Coon, Tanner King, Caleb Hay, Ian Benner, Thomas McCarthy, Cole Bushee, Evan Coon, Quentin McIntire, Damion Brown, Dalton Bentley and Andrew Morrison. Coaches are Jesse King, Bill Hay and Brian Coon.
The 9/10 team had to go the distance in its districts, clinching the state berth in Game 5 against Brattleboro.
"They're a Jekyll and Hyde team, sometimes they are very good and sometimes not as much," Metcalfe said.
Austin Grogan has been a bright spot on the team, winning all three games in the series.
The rest of the 9/10 team includes: Andon Dwyer, Ben Ranzona, Billy Rogers, Brodie Krawczyk, Colby Granger, Dylan Coyne, Hayden Rabideau, Jacob Tibbetts, Kaiden Davis and Tristen Levick. Coaches are Mark Tibbetts, Billy Rogers and Todd Granger.
The 15U team will attempt to make its second straight regional, but they have to get through the five-team state tournament first.
Other teams include Mount Mansfield, Champlain Valley, Suburban (Winooski) and St. Johnsbury.
"It's an opportunity for all these kids that they look forward to," said coach Kip O'Neill. "If we play our game, then we'll be happy with the results."
Noah Normyle, Austin Condo, Griff Stalcup and Cole Lamoureaux return after reaching the regionals last season, a tournament in which Bennington lost both games. O'Neill said he believes that leadership will take the team a long way.
"That left a sour taste in those guys' mouths and they shared it when the other players," O'Neill said. "There's a lot of familiarity at this level."
The returnees will make up the bulk of the offense, with leadoff hitter Carter Bentley providing a spark right out of the gate.
Josh Comalli, Brian Grace, Brenden Hay, James Marsden and Michael Morgan will also be part of the starting nine for Bennington. Coaches include Darryl Lamoureaux and John Stalcup.
On the mound, Bennington uses four main starters -- Condo, Normyle, Ryan O'Neill and Bryce Bush -- and any of them can silence a lineup.
Bennington will face the preliminary round winner of the St. Johnsbury/Suburban (Winooski) matchup on Saturday.
"We are going to take it one at-bat at a time and one pitch on defense, we have to stay in the moment," O'Neill said. "We have experience and confidence, so we have to go out and perform and not look past anything."
The schedule after the opener is TBA, but if the team wins both games this weekend, they'll play in the final next Sunday, the 27th.