Central Maine has drawn host Norwalk, Conn., in the opening round of the New England Regional Babe Ruth tournament for 13-year-olds which begins Saturday.

That’s usually a good sign since the host team gets an automatic bid to the tournament whether it wins or not. But in this case, Central Maine faces an experienced group that finished third in the Cal Ripken World Series for 12-year-olds last summer.

“I guess it doesn’t matter,” Central Maine manager Butch Cunningham said. “You’ve got to beat everyone anyway.”

Cunningham has faith in his team, especially after it breezed through the state tournament by outscoring opponents 41-4. Five players on the team played for a Fairfield club that won a Cal Ripken state title. Five are from the Messalonskee school district while one each come from Waterville and Winslow.

“I’ve got 12 kids and all 12 could play every inning for any team,” Cunningham said.

The Central Maine coach said his players have made a smooth adjustment from going to a small diamond as 12-year-olds to a full-sized one this season.

“The toughest thing is staying off the high fastball,” Cunningham said. “Pitchers are throwing off an 11-inch mound now.”

Although pitching and defense have been the focal point for Central Maine in practice, this team can hit. Ben Frazee, who bats third in the order, hit .750 during the state tournament. J.T. Nutting, Jared Cunningham, cleanup hitter Dan Pooler and Nick Mayo all hit well in the tournament.

“They can all hit one through nine,” Cunningham said.

Frazee, a strikeout pitcher, will likely start the first game. Cunningham also has Nutting, a left-hander, at his disposal as well as Mayo. In addition to hitting well at the state tournament, the team was aggressive on the bases.

“Dan Pooler is lightning,” Cunningham said.

Central Maine has two solid catchers in Jonathan Wilkie and Trevor Gettig while Frazee and Cunningham alternate at short depending on who’s pitching.

“You’ve got to play defense,” Cunningham said. “That’s what we focus on here. All these kids can hit a baseball.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638
[email protected]

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