Hopes will be high for Central Maine youth baseball teams — and towns — this weekend.

In junior American Legion, Skowhegan will begin play in its second straight state tournament today, eyeing a championship at Colby College against Cheverus, Cape Elizabeth and Hampden.

“We were in first place most of this season during the regular season, so I think there were some expectations going in to make it this far,” Skowhegan coach Rob Bolduc said. “We had a great regular season, and now we’re looking forward to seeing what possibly we can accomplish this weekend.”

While Skowhegan goes for a state title, Waterville will host 11U Cal Ripken teams from throughout New England looking for a regional title. The eight teams — three of which hail from Maine — will vie for the championship at Waterville’s Purnell Wrigley Field, the brand-new facility designed as a replica of the Chicago Cubs’ iconic ballpark.

“It’s such a nice venue to hold a tournament, and a lot of folks don’t realize that in little central Maine we have two Major League replica ballparks,” Maine state Cal Ripken commissioner Reggie Hatfield said. “We’ve got teams from Rhode Island, two teams from Massachusetts, a team from New Hampshire and a team from Connecticut, as well as three from Maine. It’s going to be a wonderful experience for all of them, because in the grand scheme of things, most leagues are in small communities where you’re playing on fields that aren’t quite to this caliber.”

For Skowhegan, which went 14-4 during the regular season and then beat The Acadians and Augusta in the zone tournament, the road doesn’t end at Colby regardless of how the state tournament goes. As the host team for the regional tournament in Bangor, Skowhegan gets an automatic bid to New Englands. But Bolduc said his team isn’t using that as an excuse to coast through the weekend.

“By no means are we resting on that bid,” he said. “We want to win the state championship.”

If Skowhegan achieves that, Bolduc said it will likely be the pitching that gets it done. Colby Miller, Carter Hunt and Caleb Bridges have been a strong starting trio all season, and Bolduc said Miller in particular has thrived.

“He’s probably the best pitcher in junior Legion. … He’s excellent, throws hard, pounds the strike zone,” said Bolduc, whose team opens the double-elimination tournament against Cape Elizabeth tonight at 7:15. “When they are making contact, it’s generally weak contact, and he tends to live down in the zone, which is what you want your pitchers to do.”

The Cal Ripken tournament will feature three teams from Maine, as Vermont’s inability to send a team opened a door for state runner-up Brunswick to join champion Andy Valley and host Waterville, to which Hatfield said he tried to draw the regional tournament the moment the new park opened.

“When asked by the regional director if Maine was going to seek a regional, I reached out to Isaac LeBlanc, the program director (at Waterville Cal Ripken). They were ecstatic and absolutely wanted one,” he said. “Maine should have a regional every year. … Once I had learned of the groundbreaking, myself and Isaac worked hard to make it happen.”

Hatfield said he hopes the presence of Maine teams in the tournament, as well as the new park serving as its centerpiece, will spark more interest in baseball in the area.

“In Ripken, they only do World Series for the 10- and 12-year-olds,” he said. “So I’m also hoping that this will help grow baseball in Maine, because people are going to see this and think ‘Look what’s happening. Let’s strengthen our programs and try to get some teams to that next level.’ ”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM