Bennington in Babe Ruth finals
WINOOSKI -- This time, it's all about a repeat.
On Sunday, the Bennington County Babe Ruth U15 All-Stars will travel to Hawthorne Park in Winooski to defend their 2013 state title, and with it a spot in the New England regionals.
"I couldn't be any happier," Bennington manager Kip O'Neil said. "We are healthy. We are healthy both physically and mentally. We hit almost .400 last weekend in the two games and gave up one unearned run. We saw every team play, and they all saw us play. I like where we are sitting."
The only thing left for Bennington to wait for is an opponent.
With Bennington winning both games last weekend to get to the finals in the winner's bracket, Mount Mansfield and St. Johnsbury still have to play today for the final spot in the finals. Regardless of who wins that game, Bennington will only have to win the first game Sunday to take home the state title. For the opposition, two games will be needed to advance.
"Mount Mansfield is very fundamentally sound and they have good team speed," O'Neil said. "St. Johnsbury appears to have more power. We scouted [St. Johnsbury] last Friday. We faced some of them last year in the U14 tournament. We know some of those players and some of their tendencies."
Bennington's path to Sunday's game started last weekend, when the team worked through tournament play, knocking off Suburban (Winooski) 23-1 and one of their potential opponents on Sunday, Mount Mansfield, 6-3. Couple those wins with the success that the majority of the Bennington team has experienced in Babe Ruth baseball, and the feeling amongst the team is high.
"I think we have a lot of confidence because we have won the last two years," said Noah Normyle, who was one of four players on last year's U15 championship team. "We are going there expecting to win."
Cocky? Maybe. But as Normyle pointed in his follow up, the statement isn't meant as fact.
"We take practice very seriously," Normyle said. "And I wouldn't call us cocky. I'd rather call us confident."
Normyle certainly has reason to feel confident. Besides himself, Bennington also returns Griff Stalcup, Cole Lamoureaux and Austin Condo from the team that made the regional tournament last year, and O'Neil said that an even larger portion of the team has experienced success somewhere along the Babe Ruth path.
"I think it is huge having experience at this level," O'Neil said. "Ten of these players have played regional ball as a Babe Ruth player. There is no replacement for that experience. We can't get that in the regular season."
Last season, Bennington just squeaked past Franklin County in the state title game, winning 2-1.
This year, Bennington is hoping that its lively bats from last weekend make Sunday's game a little easier to take.
"I think hitting [is our biggest strength]," Stalcup said. "I think we are the best hitting team in the state."
"The top of the lineup is strong," O'Neil added. "The top six, seven guys hit the cover off the ball. In Sunday's game (the 6-3 win over Mount Mansfield), we relied on the bottom half of the lineup to get us going. That's what really makes it, everyone that starts has the capability of hitting gap doubles."
Normyle, Lamoureaux and Stalcup will help to provide a lot of the pop in the lineup, but Bennington also has a stout lead-off man in Carter Bentley, while players like Josh Comali, Brian Grace, Brenden Hay, James Marsden and Michael Morgan will help round out the lineup.
On the mound, O'Neil has four hurlers to call on: Condo, Normyle, Ryan O'Neil and Bryce Bush. All four are capable starters for coach O'Neil -- so much so that he hasn't named a starter yet.
"I'm not going to name a starter yet," O'Neil said when asked at practice on Friday. "It's going to be decided Sunday. I want to look each of them in the eye. Certainly, it is going be one of those four, but I'm not going to name a starter yet."
Lamoureaux, who will catch for whoever tosses, said that he doesn't mind much who gets the start -- he is comfortable with all of them.
"It helps me as a catcher [having played with my pitchers before]," Lamoureaux said. "I am familiar with all of my pitchers and I know what their pitches do. This team knows what it can and cannot do."
Sunday's first pitch will be at noon, while a second game, if necessary, will start 30 minutes after the end of the first. For updates from Sunday's game as it happens, follow us on Twitter @GSmith_Banner.
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