PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- The Pittsfield Babe Ruth 14-year-old All-Stars have torn it up in travel league play this summer.
Next week, they travel to New Hampshire looking to continue their roll all the way to Alabama and the World Series.
“I think all of us are a lot more confident,” Chase Racine said this week. “All of us are hitting the ball, all of us are playing solid defense and making the plays we need to. All of us think we have a shot to go all the way this year.”
Three Pittsfield Babe Ruth squads are making the same quest. The 13-year-olds travel to Connecticut for their regional, and the 15-year-olds, who this weekend are playing for a Western Mass state title against Westfield, already have their ticket punched for next week’s regional in Westfield. The host team automatically gets in, which means Pittsfield will occupy the slot reserved for a Western Mass team -- either as champion or runner-up in the state tourney.
Racine and the 14s will be making their second straight trip to regionals. Last year as 13s, it was learning experience as Pittsfield went 0-3.
“Obviously, losing is a tough thing,” Brandon Mazzeo said. “I think we’re more hungry as a team this year and ready to win.”
Mike Taylor, who coached the team last year as 13-year-olds and is coaching them again this summer, said it was the time in between Babe Ruth seasons that made all the difference.
“I left it up to them,” Taylor said. “I said, ‘Listen, coach [Drew] Pearce in Pittsfield, who coached at UAlbany, he runs a winter program. I said, ‘Guys, listen, I talked to coach Pearce, and he said if the team wanted to come hit, he would work with every kid.’
“So, I’ve got to give it to the kids. This off-season, 90 percent of this group every Tuesday and Thursday, for the most part -- obviously, with basketball and stuff it was hard -- they were religiously going and working out. They were working on band strengthening their arms, they were lifting with them, they were putting in a lot of work hitting. It definitely paid off.”
En route to a 9-1 record as a travel team, Taylor’s squad is hitting .375 as a team.
“Last year, we were getting like four hits a game,” he said. “This year, we’re getting 10 or 12 hits per game.”
Racine said the work with Pearce Athlete Training was a big help.
“We had team workouts during the winter all the way throughout,” he said. “We came a long way from last year, hitting wise. Our work really paid off so far. Hopefully it stays that way.”
Complementing that offensive firepower is a deep pitching staff.
“Without even searching for pitching, we’re five deep,” Taylor said. “Our top two pitchers, either one of them could be the ace on any given day.
“Last year, Matt Lee was supposed to be our ace going into it, but he ended up getting an arm injury. He was not even allowed to play the infield. He played center field for us, which hurt and took away from his bat a little bit because his arm was always hurting.”
Lee and Collin Merwin have been the 14s’ top two pitchers with Adam Lazits, Tyler Gaudette and Mazzeo right behind.
Merwin said the internal competition is helping to push the whole staff to get better.
“It’s fun,” he said. “But also I just try to keep in the back of my head that I want the most time pitching. I want the other pitchers to do well as well, so we push each other to get better. But I want to be the No. 1.”
Taylor also benefits from depth at another key position: catcher.
“We have three of them: [Nick] Guachione, [Brandon] Mazzeo and [Chase] Doyle,” Taylor said. “They’ll all be doing some catching. I’m trying to figure out what we want to do Game 1 of regionals.”
As it does on the mound, the competition on the plate benefits the players in the mix.
“I think we’ve pushed each other to get better,” Mazzeo said. “During the games, it’s showing what you can do, making the throws and blocking the ball.”
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