The Central Maine Babe Ruth 14-year-old all-star team opens play in the New England tournament Friday on familiar ground in Westfield, Mass.
“We were there as 13-year-olds,” coach Tom Bell said. “We’re going back to the same place. That’s going to give us a little more confidence.”
It’s no coincidence the team is returning to the New England tournament. Baseball teams from Central Maine — comprised of players from Waterville, Winslow, Oakland and Fairfield — have been winning at a steady clip the past few years. They swept all three age categories this year and are preparing for New England tournaments.
The 13-year-olds, coached by Dennis Dacus and Scott Ballard, open play Saturday in Manchester, N.H. against the Western Massachusetts champions. The 14-year-olds take on Eastern Mass. on Friday while the 15-year-olds face Western Mass. in their opener Aug. 3 in Newtown, Conn. The three teams breezed through their district tournaments and went a combined 9-0 in the state tournament.
“All these kids really love baseball,” Bell said. “They’ve all got good baseball IQs and they’re always in the game.”
One common denominator among the teams is strong coaching. Butch Cunningham coaches the 15-year-old all-stars this year after leading the 13- and 14-year-olds to regional finals the past two seasons.
“You’re getting a lot of talent between the four (towns),” Cunningham said. “It makes the coaching job easy.”
Success at the youth levels has projected into high school. This year Messalonskee of Oakland played in the Class A state final, a year after winning it, and Winslow reached the Class B state championship game.
Another common denominator is solid pitching. Each of the teams boasts four experienced pitchers. The four who pitch for the 15-year-olds all pitched well for their high school varsity teams. They include Nick Mayo and Ben Frazee of Messalonskee, J.T. Nutting from Lawrence and Jacob Trask from Winslow.
“I think it gives us an incredible edge,” Cunningham said. “Our goal is to win the whole thing.”
Ballard and Dacus both coached at the Cal Ripken level in the past, moving up to Babe Ruth this year with their sons. For this team, it’s the first time they’ve all played together.
“There’s definitely some tournament success there,” Ballard said. “Fairfield Cal Ripken went deep into the state tournament and Messalonskee has made it a number of times. It’s nice having the communities come together.”
Because the teams were involved in their own state tournament, scouting reports are tough to come by. Ballard said he and Dacus have checked online, but haven’t had much success.
“We’re going in kind of blind,” he said. “We’re not intimidated, but we also don’t know what we’re getting into.”
Because all three teams won state tournaments from the same area, it places more of a burden on fundraising.
“It gets expensive,” Cunningham said. “We have to go out and find sponsors. But everybody is great in the community.”
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638