Mike Berry was the coach of previous Skowhegan Cal Ripken baseball teams that played in the New England tournament. When he spoke to his 11-year-old team, made up entirely of players who have never played in a New England regional, he told them the most important thing to do is have fun.
“I expressed to them, ‘We need to go in and keep playing the way we’ve been playing,'” Berry said.
The Skowhegan 11-year old Cal Ripken team is not the only team from the league advancing to New England tournament play. The Skowhegan 9-year-olds also will make the trip to the regionals. Both tournaments begin on Saturday. The 9-year-olds will play in Walpole, N.H., while the 11-year-old tournament is in West Warwick, R.I.
“They’re both very exciting to watch,” Skowhegan Cal Ripken league president Reg Hatfield said.
The 11-year-olds open play in the double elimination tournament against Cranston, R.I. at 12:30 p.m. The 9-year-olds will also face Cranston, R.I., and will also play at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“This is the first time for me, coaching at this level,” said Doug McEwen, the coach of the Skowhegan 9-year-olds. “It’s certainly a surprise. When we started playing scrimmages, we saw some pretty good things.”
The Skowhegan 9-year-olds advanced to the New England tournament by winning a 20-team state tourney it hosted. After falling to Lisbon late in the tournament, Skowhegan defeated Gorham, then beat undefeated Lisbon twice, 5-4 and 11-2, to claim the state crown.
Skowhegan’s 11-year-old team dominated state competition, nearly winning each game via the 10-run mercy rule. The team’s run through the state tournament came after it lost the championship game of the Sebago-Long Lake tournament, 10-9, to Andy Valley.
“Our closest game was nine runs,” Berry said. “It all came together. Half the kids hit over .500 in the state tournament.”
The Skowhegan 11-year-olds were state runners up each of the last two seasons. This year, they beat Marshwood 13-3 to win the state title.
“This team hits, all the way through, 11 or 12 kids,” Berry said. “We hit the ball well, we pitch well and we play good defense.”
Pitching is also a strength of the 9-year-olds, McEwen said.
“We went three deep in the (state) tournament, pitching-wise,” McEwen said.
Both Berry and McEwen know they’ll see tough competition at the New Englands.
“They’re all state champs. We’re going to see some pretty good baseball. I told the team if we keep fighting, that big inning is going to come where we score five or six runs,” Berry said.
“The game is the game. We need to do the things we normally do,” McEwen said. “I think we can compete.”
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242