A familiarity with the visiting teams could be helpful when Manchester and Bedford begin play Saturday in the 13-year-old New England Regional Baseball Tournament at Gill Stadium.
“Somewhere along the line over the last three or four years, we’ve played just about every team in the regional tournament,” said Manchester manager Tony Doucet. “I can tell you all eight teams have strong baseball communities.”
Bedford, the newly crowned state champion under manager Kevin Lavigne, will face Eastern. Massachusetts winner Plymouth at 1 p.m. while Manchester, the host team, encounters Coventry, R.I., in the 8 p.m. nightcap.
The other two first-round games Saturday feature Central Maine against Western Mass. champ Westfield at 10 a.m. and Brattleboro, Vt., against New Milford, Conn., at 4 p.m.
The double-elimination format tournament will continue with four games Sunday. Two games are slated for 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, followed by the losers’ bracket finals next Wednesday at 6 p.m. The finals will be staged on Thursday, Aug. 1 at 5 p.m.
Tonight beginning at 6, Manchester Babe Ruth League Director Gary Ulbin is inviting the public to attend a home run derby contest featuring the top hitters from each team in the regionals.
Doucet is coaching his 11th All-Star team. His teams have reached the regionals seven times with two World Series appearances in 2010 (fifth overall in Levelland, tex.) and in 2007 in Loudon County, Va., finishing eighth.
“We met and beat Plymouth (Mass.) in the regionals finals in 2010,” said Doucet. “New Milford has been to the regionals at least three straight times and we’ve had a long history with Bedford, Westfield, Brattleboro and Central Maine. Some good battles at different age levels (13-, 14-, 15-year olds) with those teams. The one team we don’t have familiarity with is Coventry.”
Last year, Bedford beat the Coventry Americans in the pool play round of the 12-year-old New England Regional Little League Tournament in Bristol, Conn.
Manchester played in five state tournament games last week and Doucet said his team’s strength is defense and pitching.
“We’ve been battling an injury bug this summer,” said Doucet. “We were down to around 10 healthy players, but we’re getting back some players now. This has been a resilient group.”
Doucet has tabbed Ryan Plentzas as the opening round starter. “He’s been outstanding all year and when he’s locked in, he’s as good as anyone. Ryan throws strikes and that’s what good pitchers do.”
Colby Foster, Will Pavitt, Christian Von Breeden and lefty Dylan O’Sullivan round out the pitching staff.
Doucet said O’Sullivan is a solid first baseman with a lot of range and, second baseman Aidan Horne and Plentzas, when not pitching, make the team stronger up the middle. Pavitt and Keegan Hall give the team depth at third base and Doucet said he has seven quality outfielders, Matt Nault, Eric Langley, Markus Joseph, Dante Goldner, Bryce Vigneault, Foster and Von Breeden.
Doucet mentioned Nick Trask as a leader behind the plate. “He’s done a good job working with our pitchers,” said Doucet, assisted this season by coaches Nick Doucet, Scott Schilling and Mica Blanchette.
Lavigne said Plymouth, Mass., won its last three state games scoring in double digits. “It tells me they have a very good offense,” said Lavigne, who returns nine players from last year’s Little League team which came within one game of reaching the World Series.
Joe Barrett, Peyton Murray, Nick Mokas, Ryan Lee, Brennan Hughes, Grant Lavigne, Connor Collins, Patrick Harrington and Tim Saltzman give Bedford a winning presence. Rounding out the Bedford roster are Ryan Andrews, Landon Jennings, Geoff Mosseau and Kagan Walker.
Lavigne or Mosseau will get the mound start Saturday.
and Bedford will keep manager Cary Buxton in their thoughts as he is home recovering from surgery.