ROCHESTER — There’s something special about this year’s Greater Keene Babe Ruth 15 and under baseball team.
Then, the same could be said of this group last year, and the year before that, too.
Suffice it to say, the team’s success is anything but coincidental.
After winning the 14 and under state championship last year, and the 13 and under title the campaign before that, the same group of young baseball players plowed through this weekend’s 15 and under tourney at Monsignor Gilles Simard Babe Ruth Field, finishing Sunday with a six-inning, 14-0 win over the host entry, Rochester.
This talented group of players has now qualified for its third straight New England Regional tournament, starting Friday in Westfield, Mass.
“We have a very, very solid group of kids,” Keene Manager Chad Branon said. “There’s a lot of team chemistry, they really play well together and push each other. We’re very solid defensively, and then we try to put a lot of pressure on our opposition. Just a great group of young men, and I think they represent the area well.”
After a close, 3-2 win over Lamprey River Saturday that earned the team a spot in the final round, Keene returned to its dominant ways Sunday.
Connor Branon (4.1 innings) and Liam Conley (1.2) combined to shut out Rochester, with Branon racking up nine strikeouts along the way. It was the team’s best performance in terms of runs allowed, but not by much, as Keene held its opponents to just four runs the entire weekend, led by strong starting pitching from Branon and Alex Charles.
Charles and Branon also led the Keene offense, recording three hits each. Charles tallied one double and a team-high three RBI, while Branon finished with two doubles and two RBI.
Jared Schmitt also had two RBI, and Conley, Tucker Brown and Jake Kidney drove in one run each.
Keene started the game off slowly, with one run in the first inning and none in the second, but broke things open with a four-run rally in the third. The team added two more in the fifth, then doubled its score with seven in the sixth, triggering the mercy rule after Rochester failed to score in the bottom half.
Two years ago, this Keene group reached the Babe Ruth World Series after winning the New England Regional tournament. Last year, the team lost in the finals to Norwalk, Conn., in heartbreaking and controversial fashion, when a walk-off sacrifice fly was called back in the bottom of the seventh after it was ruled the Keene runner left early. Then, in the 10th inning, Norwalk plated the winning run.
This year, Keene is as eager as ever to get back to the finals and reclaim championship glory.
“This group is pretty hungry, and I look forward to seeing how they play in Westfield,” Branon said. “You’ve got to be mentally strong, but I think we’ll be all right as long as we play our game.”