The fact his Junior League All-Star team is making its third straight trip to the U.S. East Regionals is not lost on Bangor coach Dennis Libbey.
Neither is another fact.
“Well, this is the fourth time we’ ve gone in eight years,” said Libbey. “But in 2001, we went 2-2, in 2006 we were 1-2, and last year we went 0-2.
“I was joking with [fellow coach] Andy [Hartley] and [manager] Jimmy [Owens] the other day and told them if our win total doesn’ t start going back up, they’ re not going to renew our contracts.”
Given their success during a youth baseball coaching partnership that goes back 13 years, that’ s doubtful, but both coaches and five players returning from last year’ s state championship squad are highly motivated to extend their stay in the 10-team regional in Freehold, N.J., and not just because they plan to attend a New York Yankees game and tour the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center’ s ground zero.
“We don’ t want to go two games and out,” Libbey said. “That first one is huge. If you can win the first game, you get a day off. But if you lose, you’ re playing that first game the next morning.”
For the second straight year, Bangor’ s first game in the double-elimination tourney is against the New Jersey state champions, Saturday at 4 p.m. Last year, they lost that game 3-2. Bangor is expecting a different outcome this time around.
“We’ re very sound fundamentally and defensively. We turned four double plays in one game and this is as strong a group, arm strength-wise as we’ ve ever had for infielders and outfielders,” Libbey said. “We were deeper in pitching last year, but this year’ s lineup has produced more runs.
“I can tell you that you have to throw strikes and you can’ t make errors against good teams like this. If we do that, we’ ll be competitive at this level.”
Bangor has gone 8-1 this season behind the pitching of Jesse Wood (4-0) and Luke Hetterman (3-0), who have helped the team notch three shutouts.
“Our strength is our hitting. We’ ve got some real good hitters and are real strong up and down the lineup,” Libbey said.
Hetterman, who plays shortstop when not pitching, sets the table as the leadoff hitter and leads the team in runs scored. Third baseman Conner Griffin bats second followed by catcher Adam King, a solid RBI guy cleanup hitter and first baseman Josiah Hartley (top home run hitter and RBI producer) second baseman Dylan Morris center fielder Christian Corneil left fielder-relief pitcher Coty Savage or pitcher Wood right fielder-relief pitcher Curtis Worcester, and shortstop Bobby Winchell.
Reserve players include catcher Bryan Rouleau, first baseman Anthony Capuano, right fielder-pitcher Ellis Throckmorton, and second baseman Carl Farnham.
Libby said the team started playing its best ball of the season late in the state tourney after dropping a game early on to Bucksport (5-4).
“I have to say the best game we’ ve played all year was in states against Bucksport when we had to beat them twice,” he said. “We won the rematch 8-0 and the second down in Bucksport 13-3. That 8-0 game was the turning point for us in terms of putting it all together against a very good team.”
That was last weekend. Now the question is how this week’ s five-game break from live competition will affect the team’ s momentum.
“I don’ t think the break will hurt us,” Libbey said. “It’ s given us a chance to work on some things the last few days.”
One thing that shouldn’ t be a factor for the team is nerves.
“We have a pretty good routine with the kids now and being there the last two years, it’ s familiar to us,” he said. “I don’ t think anyone’ s in awe because we’ ve all been there before.”