Editor’s note: This story by Benjamin Rosenberg was first published in the Valley News on Aug. 3.
The ultimate underdogs are ready for the Maine event.
After winning the New England regional tournament last month, the Central Vermont 12U Cal Ripken all-star baseball team is going where no team from the Green Mountain State has been before: the Cal Ripken World Series, which begins Saturday in Waterville, Maine.
Comprising 11- and 12-year-olds from Sharon, Thetford, Tunbridge and Randolph, among other nearby towns, Central Vermont has not lost a game — 13 wins, no losses and one tie — in winning the Vermont state tournament, the Corcoran Tournament in Claremont, New Hampshire, and the New England championships in Burlington, Massachusetts.
“They’re excited about playing baseball all the time,” Central Vermont head coach Ryan Langlois said. “They enjoy competing, and they don’t get flustered very easily. They’re playing kids who are much bigger or more mature in the sense that they come from bigger towns, but they hold their own, and they do such a great job of playing under pressure in critical situations.”
Central Vermont won the state championship last summer with several of the same players as well but suffered an early exit in the New England tournament. That experience served the team well this time around, as Central Vermont defeated the Massachusetts state champions and runners-up and New Hampshire state champion Lebanon to qualify for the World Series.
The all-star season began in mid-June with pool play against teams from across the state, which determined the seeding for the state tournament at Maxfield Sports Complex. Central Vermont steamrolled the competition, winning six games by a combined 60-6.
That said, the title game against Bellows Falls was anything but smooth sailing — Central Vermont trailed by three runs in the fifth inning, but a clutch hit by Miles Lawrence of Tunbridge tied things up, and Dylan Delaney of Randolph walked things off in the sixth with a double.
“Everybody was in shock at first, then everybody was going crazy,” said Rocco Adamoli-Puchalik, another Tunbridge resident.
The team continued to roll through its opposition at the Corcoran Tournament against teams from Vermont and New Hampshire, tying its first game against Swanzey before winning out from there, defeating Keene, New Hampshire, in the championship game. That set the stage for the New England championship, where Central Vermont came in with nothing to lose and came out Waterville-bound.
“The team that was most competitive to us was Weymouth, the state champion team from Massachusetts,” Langlois said. “But for the most part, a lot of the other games we scored a lot more runs with a combination of small ball, good hitting, and sometimes we get lucky and have some kids hit a lot of home runs.”
The Cal Ripken World Series will be played on two artificial turf fields, with the outfield walls meant to resemble Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, respectively. Central Vermont will face teams from California, Idaho and Indiana in pool play, as well as a pair of teams from Maine. To prepare for the change in playing surface, the team practiced on Dartmouth College’s Memorial Field, working on sliding and fielding grounders.
Although the tournament is within driving distance, the team estimated the trip will still cost upward of $50,000 for lodging, food and tournament fees, so they conducted a fundraising campaign to help cover some of those expenses. Some players performed music at the Chef’s Market in Randolph, and the team also sponsored a car wash. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has represented Vermont in the U.S. Senate since 1975, congratulated the all-stars in a tweet that included a link to the team’s Facebook page.
“These kids, they’re all games,” Langlois said. “There’s still that underlying group of kids in our great state; they just want to play. They’re as talented as any team in New England, and we’re super proud of them.”