Bennington off to regionals


BENNINGTON -- The Bennington 15U Babe Ruth baseball team outscored opponents 38-8 during the state tournament, going undefeated and punching their tickets for a third straight regional appearance.

But they are unsatisfied.

As 13 and 14s, Bennington were knocked out early in both regionals and they are determined not to let that happen again.

"We need to turn the page from state play to get ready for regionals, because it's a different level of baseball and competition," said Bennington manager Kip O'Neill. "A lot of the team has familiarity with regional play, but it's a new level this year. As a team, we're coming together at a good time and we've been healthy."

Bennington rolled through the state tournament, winning its first game in a 23-1 mercy-rule shortened game over host Suburban, then scored a 6-3 victory over Mount Mansfield to reach the final.

Then in the final, Bennington came back from an early deficit for a 9-4 championship win over St. Johnsbury, and after the last out, there was no jumping up and down in celebration - there was a very low-key affirmation they were state champs but that there's still unfinished business to attend to.

"When the game was over, no one lost their minds, they had accomplished [the state] goal and now move on to the next one," O'Neill said. "We want to eclipse what we've done in the past and that's to have success at the regional level."

Offensively, the team is running on all cylinders, with Noah Normyle, Carter Bentley and Griff Stalcup - among others - tearing the cover off the ball. In fact, all but one player reached base in the final. Pitching has been excellent as well, as O'Neill only had to use three guys - Austin Condo, Normyle and Ryan O'Neill - to get through the three state tournament games.

"From an offense standpoint, there's no situation that causes concern as to where we have a player hitting," Kip O'Neill said. "We can hit for power, we have good team speed and the ability to bunt. Everyone adapts to the situation without pause, because they understand our philosophy [as coaches]."

"It's good to know who to call on," said Ryan O'Neil, who had a save against Mount Mansfield and finished the game against St. Johnsbury in the final. "We are a deep pitching team, we have 5 or 6 guys that can do it, but we didn't need them. But we'll need them in [the] regionals, especially in tight games."

Experience could play a huge role for Bennington when it starts the tournament in Manchester, N.H., Saturday at 1 p.m. against a team from Maine. Ten of the 12 players on the roster have competed at the regional level in the past three years.

"The older leadership is beneficial for everyone, there's no awe factor," O'Neill said. "Everyone contributed to the win on Sunday. [The] team has jelled [together], which affords us opportunities that other teams don't have. We played 17 games to get ready for state play."

Ryan O'Neill said that bond could be the difference in tight situations.

"We've played together for the last three years and there's a family bond," Ryan O'Neill said. "We know what people can do, we can pick up guys when they need to be [picked up]."

Bryce Bush said he thinks one of the keys will be to go into regionals with the same mindset as they did for the state tournament.

"One we get to the regional, things will be way harder, but I think we have the guys to do it," said Bush after taking a turn in the batting cage during a practice this week. "We are one of the more solid teams with the experience and we're bonded as one team, and that gives us more confidence."

If Bennington can turn things around and make it through the regional, they would travel across the country to Washington state for the Babe Ruth World Series.

"We've been to [regionals] a couple of times, but we haven't got the big hit in a tight game," said Ryan O'Neill. "We're going to have to have those and guys coming up in big spots."


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