The Augusta 14U Babe Ruth team has been here before. Last year, in fact. And things couldn’t have gone better.

Augusta came out on top in the 13U state tournament last summer, taking first place en route to a berth in the New England regional championship. The players are now a year older, and coach Jason Douin likes their chances as they aim to be best in the state once again.

“We’re hungry,” he said. “We want to get back to that because we feel that we have a team that can compete for a regional title.”

They aren’t the only area team chasing state glory and regional recognition. Augusta pulled off a clean sweep of the Babe Ruth district tournaments, winning championships at the 13U, 14U and 15U divisions, and all three will spend this weekend looking to keep their runs going while this time taking on the best from throughout the entire state.

“The in-house leagues are very competitive,” Taylor Lockhart, coach of the 15U, said about the capital area’s districts success. “I think there are very good players at every level, but I think coaching plays a big part. They’re very committed to making the team better, and they know what they’re talking about.”

“I don’t know if that’s been done, with all three age groups winning a district,” Douin said. “It’s exciting for them.”

The 14U and 15U teams will also have the benefit of playing at home, with the 14Us playing at McGuire Field and the 15s playing at Morton Field in tournaments that begin this morning. The 13U tournament, which also includes Central Maine after a runner-up finish in the district tournament, began play Wednesday in Auburn, with Central Maine falling to Tri-County, 5-0.

If there are nerves that come with playing at this stage, it’s fair to say Augusta’s 14Us won’t be feeling them. Not after shaking off any jitters to win the state title.

“We have a really positive outlook,” he said. “I’m feeling really good about how we’re playing and how the team’s coming together. It’s an opportunity for another good run at the states.”

While last year’s experience might help the 14Us feel comfortable, however, Douin said it won’t have them feeling cocky.

“Having that in our pocket, that we can win close games and rise to the occasion when we need to, is a pretty good thing to know. I think these kids are starting to believe more in what they can do,” he said. “But there are some really good teams in Maine that we have to beat to get by. Each game is critical for us. We’re not overlooking any opponent.”

The 14Us advanced by going undefeated in district play, and will open at 10 a.m. today against South Portland — the same team they beat for the state title last year.

“We need to be ready to play, we need to be prepared to play,” Douin said. “If we get beat, it’s not going to be because we weren’t ready.”

The 15U team, which went 1-2 in districts as a 14U team last year, rallied to avoid a similar fate this time, dropping its opening game before winning four straight, including two in a row over Apple Valley, to emerge as tournament champion out of the losers’ bracket. It will play twice today, opening against Portland at 10 a.m. and then playing Sanford at 3 p.m.

“Our confidence is high, but we’ve got to keep that in check and keep playing good baseball,” Lockhart said. “It’s more of a team atmosphere (now). … (Last year), I had to put together a lineup, I didn’t know where kids played. I didn’t think I had a catcher, I didn’t know who could catch. But with this 15-year-old team, I know all the kids, I know where they play.”

Lockhart said the turning point came in a chaotic 10-8 win over Midcoast.

“Very intense game, fans getting into it, going back and forth,” he said. “They were composed. … There are a lot of teams that get chirped at and shut it down, but I was proud of my team, with the way that, in a tough circumstance, they came through.”

The 13Us breezed into the state tournament with a 3-0 record in district play, but began state play with an 8-2 loss to Tri-County on Thursday. Central Maine, which fell to Augusta, 10-4, in the district final, also began with a loss, and will face an uphill climb to advance out of the pool play format with three of its top pitchers due to miss a Saturday doubleheader with basketball commitments.

“We’ve got a pretty good all-around team. We had contributions from everybody (in the district tournament),” coach Chad Corson said, before turning attention to Saturday’s games. “It’s going to make it tough to have enough kids to pitch, having two games where you’re missing three of your top pitchers.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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