Defending regional champion and host Westfield, Mass., along with newly crowned state champion Pittsfield, Mass., figure to stand in Manchester's way when the New England 14-year-old Babe Ruth Baseball Tournament begins Friday at Bullens Field.
According to Manchester manager Mickey Hanagan, Westfield beat Pittsfield for the World Series berth last year in the 13-year-old regionals. "Both teams are back this year and you figure they're returning most of their players."
Pittsfield defeated Westfield for the Western Massachusetts state crown last weekend.
Manchester enters the regionals with a 6-0 record, having outscored its opposition, 57-10.
"This may be the best balanced team I've coached in a long time," said Hanagan, now in his 49th coaching season with 10 World Series appearances. "Pitching and defense has been outstanding."
Hanagan has three solid righthanders in his starting rotation, Matt Reynolds, Patrick Swanson and Drew Merrick.
Pitching depth on the team is rich with Jake Carrier, Nick Salcito and Ryan Wickey ready in the wings when called upon.
The infield is deep with Reynolds and Wickey manning first base, Garrett Olivar stationed at second base, John Robinson in the hole at short and, Joey Davis, Swanson and Salcito sharing duties at third base. "Olivar and Robinson have been strong up the middle and we've got Joey Silva in center who can chase down any ball hit to him. I'd say without question I haven't had as a strong a defensive team than this one, particularly in the outfield."
Silva is flanked by a group of outfielders including Merrick, Salcito, Jayson Derome and Kyle Jutras, depending on who is pitching. Hanagan said catchers Nate Hall and Jake Poitras have done a nice job handling the pitchers.
"Knock on wood, we've only made three errors in six games and none of them ended up hurting us," said Hanagan. "We have to make the easy plays on defense to have a chance to go far into the tournament."
Hanagan wasn't pleased to hear the 14-year-old regionals will be under a round-robin format. "I personally like the double-elimination format," said Hanagan. "In the round robin, we're guaranteed three games and the last four teams standing enter the semifinals in a single elimination format. Hopefully we'll get there."
Manchester is part of a four-team American Division, grouped with Pittsfield, Mass., Norword, Mass., and Central Maine.
The four teams in the National Division are St. Johnsbury, Vt., Waterford, Conn., Warwick, R.I., and host Westfield.
Today at 10 a.m., Manchester will play Pittsfield in its opening-round game.
On Saturday at 10 a.m., Manchester will face Norwood, Mass. In the third game, Central Maine and Manchester will play Sunday at 1 p.m.
If Manchester reaches the semifinals, it will be part of a doubleheader that starts at 4 p.m. Monday.
The tournament wraps up with the championship final Tuesday at 3 p.m.. The regional winner will advance to the Babe Ruth World Series in Newark, Ohio, beginning Aug. 14.