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Manchester Babe Ruth President Gary Ulbin, center, meets with coaches and officials at Gill Stadium in Manchester in advance of today's opener of the Babe Ruth New England regionals. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

John Habib's City Sports: Locals taking nothing for granted in Babe Ruth tourney

IT WOULD be understandable if Hampton wished it had drawn a different opponent than Manchester’s Tom Woodlock All-Stars for the opening round of the Babe Ruth League Baseball ages 13-15 New England Regional.

Manchester faced Hampton twice in the state tournament and beat the team from the Seacoast by a combined score of 21-4.

All the same, Manchester manager Mickey Hanagan was taking nothing for granted this week as he prepared his team to host Hampton tonight at Gill Stadium.

“Means nothing now,” Hanagan said of Manchester’s 7-3 victory over Hampton in the state winners’ bracket final and 14-1 rematch rout in the championship game. “It’s a whole new tournament, and we’re expecting a tough game from Hampton. Forget the scores last week. Hampton can hit the ball. This is a team we’re not taking lightly.”

The two Granite State teams — Manchester received an automatic berth as regional host, opening the door for the team it defeated in the state final to represent New Hampshire — play the last of today’s four opening-round games, at 8 p.m.

In earlier action, Bennington, Vt., and Central Maine open the regional at 10 a.m., Cranston, R.I., faces, Plymouth, Mass., at 1 p.m., and Waterford, Conn., opposes Pittsfield, Mass., at 4 p.m.

The host team enters the tournament regional-tested, having won last year’s age-14 New England Regional at Westfield, Mass., with many of the same players. Central Maine, Pittsfield and Waterford also competed in that tournament. Manchester defeated Waterford in the final, 6-5.

“They’re all good teams, all worthy of being here,” said Hanagan. “I can tell you right now, many of these regional games are going to be close games. We’ve got half the field back from last year’s regional tournament and many of those games went down to the wire. You don’t get to the regionals unless you have at least two real good starters.”

Hanagan, who speaks from experience — 50 years’ worth as a Babe Ruth mentor, including 13 World Series appearances — has more than two good starters at his disposal: Jason Derome, Drew Merrick, Matt Reynolds, Nick Salcito, Pat Swanson and the staff’s lone left-hander, 14-year-old Declan Knieriem.

“Many of our pitchers back played in the regionals last year and did very well,” Hanagan said. “To have experienced pitchers back is a big plus for us.”

Derome will start tonight.

“He throws strikes, which is the name of the game,” said Hanagan. “He gives us innings, and that’s important in tournament play.”

Playing at Gill is another advantage for the Woodlocks.

“Our kids know the field, know how to play the turf at Gill Stadium,” said Hanagan. “They’re home sleeping in their beds. All of that is an advantage, but you still have make the plays on the field. The team that executes the best usually wins.”

A Waterford-Manchester championship rematch is a distinct possibility. The teams are in different brackets, and Waterford has a good mix of pitching and power. In the Connecticut state championship, it beat Stamford, 6-4, on the strength of home runs by Corey Conderiono and Justin Keating.

KEEP AN EYE on Trinity High/Sweeney Post slugger Connor Walsh over the next two years. Only 16, Walsh was a major contributor to Sweeney’s 16-6 season under coach Dave Flurey this summer. During the regular season, he batted .496 with three homers and led the team with 21 RBIs.

“I had a great time playing with all the guys on Sweeney,” Walsh said after Tuesday’s loss to Derry. “I’m one of the young guys on the team, and the team treated me like a veteran. Coach is fun to play for, and the whole Sweeney organization does things the right way. They send us to road games on buses and take us out to dinner just to bond as a team. They know how important team chemistry is towards having a successful season.”

Walsh, who will turn 17 in September, is an agile, 6-foot, 2-inch, 210-pound slugger who pitches and plays first and third base.

“I’ll play anywhere and hit anywhere in the lineup,” he said. “Just as long as I’m playing.”

ASKED if he planned to apply for the vacant varsity baseball head coach position at Trinity after more than two months of coaching Sweeney, Flurey responded with the quote of the summer:

“No, because I want to stay married.”

“City Sports” is published Saturday’s in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at jhabib@unionleader.com.


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