Bennington all-stars prepare for state tournaments
BENNINGTON — It's been quite the all-star season for both of the Bennington little league teams.
Neither team has dropped a game and both are coming off thrilling district championship wins this past week.
The next step: the Vermont State Tournament.
Both teams are comfortable on this stage, having represented District 2 in last year's state tournament.
"It's the first step on the goals we set at the beginning of the season, to win districts," said Bennington 12U coach Derrick Tienken. "We're happy to get past that first step, but not satisfied yet."
"It's awesome. Most of the years we go to the state tournament and it's a great honor to go," said Bennington 10U coach Ryan Greenslet. "I want us to push through further. We've got a great group of kids here, great personalities and they all get along great."
The 10U all-star team was the first of the two Bennington teams to clinch a state tournament berth when they used a nine-run fourth inning to beat Brattleboro 12-5 on Wednesday.
Throughout the three games of the district tournament, they flashed their prowess on both sides of the ball.
In the first two games, it was pitching that took center stage. Brody Smith and Blake Tienken combined for a two-hitter in a 10-1 win in Game 1 of the series against Brattleboro and Seth Greenslet came up with a two-hit effort of his own the next day in an 11-0 win.
Those three came through in the biggest spots for Bennington in districts, but the group has loads of pitching depth behind them.
Ryan Greenslet sees that has a major advantage heading into the tournament.
"I can't imagine there's a team out there that has as much depth [in their pitching staff] than we have," Ryan Greenslet said. "I didn't even get to showcase what we have [in districts]. I've got four or five pitchers that are solid and then the rest throw strikes. That's what it's going to take."
While Bennington's pitching took them through those first two games, its offense really pushed them forward in the clinching game.
Bennington is set to host the state tournament for the first time since 2015 and will play the winner of the District 4 tournament, Connecticut Valley North, in its opening game Saturday, while Addison County (District 1) and Essex Town (District 3) play in the other game.
Those winning teams will square off and the losing teams will play each other, with two losses eliminating a team from the tournament.
The last time the 10U team made it to the New England regional tournament was 2015.
"A lot of good teams are coming down, but home field advantage is going to be huge," Ryan Greenslet said. "Win or lose, it doesn't matter as long as we go down swinging."
The 12U all-star team played a much more highly contested district-clinching game.
Following a fairly comfortable 6-2 win in Game 1 of the district tournament series, Bennington had to come back from a five-run hole to eventually beat Brattleboro 13-12 in a Game 2 slugfest. In pool play, Bennington was undefeated in three games against Brattleboro and Rutland.
Bennington's two big horses on the mound in the district tournament were Riley Britch and Vance Kobelia. Those two will once again shoulder the pitching load heading into states, with a handful of guys able to toss quality innings around them.
The 12U's are confident in what they have going for them on the pitching side and they see that tough battle with Brattleboro to clinch districts as a good thing for their development.
"It was good that we had a tight game for Game 3. Riley Britch, Hunter Sherwin and Steven Collette were in tight spots as pitchers," Derrick Tienken said. "There was pressure there and there's certainly going to be pressure for the next two weekends. It was good they got to experience that and it won't be the first time they're in a pinch when playing for a state title."
Bennington's lineup provides a good mix of power from guys like Kobelia, Britch, Dreland Carey and Ryan Maroney, with speed from Hunter Sherwin, Sean Moriarty and Colin Brady.
Bennington gets started with District 4's Connecticut Valley North in its opener on Friday, while District 3's Northwest Little League and District 1's Williston Little League play in the other game.
Like the 10U tournament, it will be double elimination.
The last time Bennington represented Vermont in the New England tournament was 1991, when a young Derrick Tienken was learning the game as part of that team.
"I was 11 years old on that team and that's something I would love to see these kids experience," Derrick Tienken said. "They work their butts off and they certainly have the talent to get there and give it a shot."
Adam Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.
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