Gilford’s TJ Carmilia catches for the 9-10 year old all-stars during state tournament action in Kensington earlier this month. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
July 23, 2012GILFORD – It's been nearly three months since opening day, and in that time, Gilford Cal Ripken Baseball has impressed both locally and state-wide, with the 10U all-stars competing in the state championship tournament and the 12U all-stars winning a pair of games at districts.
"The level of play at the all-star level I think was higher this year than it has been," said league president Jaime Boucher. "A lot of that can be attributed to working with these kids since February at Gilford Hills."
For the first time, Gilford took out space at Gilford Hills over the winter to give its players a head start on the spring season.
"We bought a portable batting cage that we used indoors there and really felt like it got us a leg up," Boucher said. "Kids that were interested in doing that before this year would've had to travel to Concord. But doing it this way, we probably had 40 to 50 kids working out in preparation for the season."
Numbers actually went up in the league this year, with Boucher estimating between 135-140 kids taking part between the Majors and Minors.
"For the first time in probably six to seven years, we actually went up in numbers from last year," said Boucher. "Back then, there wasn't a spring soccer league, lacrosse, other sports that would draw kids in. These numbers are probably more sustainable than back then."
All-star tryouts were held early on, back in the beginning of May, as the teams traveled to the Farmington Tournament over Memorial Day to kick off the all-star season. When numbers in the league stood around 250 back in the day, the Gilford all-star coaches would often have 30 or more players coming out for all-star roster spots. That isn't the case anymore, though the 15 or so that did come out for the squads brought high expectations for this summer's slate of action. Last year's 10U team won the District 6 title and advanced to states, though the bulk of that team moved up to the 12U squad this summer.
"Personally I did have high expectations this summer," admitted Boucher. "I've been working with both groups for three to four years now. I knew what they were capable of doing. The group of four or five coaches that were involved also had high expectations for both groups."
The 10U squad, coached by Rick Muthersbaugh, Jeff McKinney and Boucher, made it two years in a row as District 6 champs thanks to a two-game sweep of Franklin, and the youngsters gave teams all they could handle in the state tournament in Kensington. Gilford lost a pair of one-run games, showing big improvement over last year's state tourney appearance.
"We definitely fared well at states compared to years past," Boucher explained. "I think we could've done better, I know everyone would've liked to see that, but we're heading in the right direction as a program. Last year, we had a very strong group of kids going into states. But initially I think they were just a little shell-shocked and overwhelmed. This year, those kids went in with that confidence to take that next step."
The 12U team, coached by Patrick McKenna, Alex Winkleman and Jim Glover, went 2-4 in the District 6 tournament, as the squad ran into a tough pool of teams from the Lakes Region.
"At that level, there were some very strong groups that they saw," said Boucher.
Next year's all-star teams should be strong as well, as the 10U team's roster of 13 players will have about half that roster returning. The 12U squad will also have a big core back, with the remaining players moving up to Babe Ruth ball.
"I think we have the possibility of another year of really good teams," Boucher said.
The pipeline overall is strong in Gilford, as Boucher hopes the success at the lower level will trickle up all the way to the high school teams and coach Matt Finch's varsity program. The Babe Ruth squad made it to the state tournament as well this summer, with those 13-15 year olds the next crop of players to contribute at the high school level.
"Back in December, Matt Finch and I sat down and right out of the gate, we both had similar thoughts on how we want this whole program to go in town," Boucher began. "He's very involved, wants to be involved right down to the Cal Ripken level and staying informed on what the kids are doing. So there is certainly potential there for Gilford to have a strong program."
Boucher was also impressed with the high school players returning to give a helping hand at several Cal Ripken events during the spring.
"A lot of the high school kids this year got involved with us, helped us out on special event days and worked with the kids," he said. "They made their presence known. They came down on home run derby day, did a little demonstration. The kids were all wide-eyed, they look up to the older guys."
Next up for the locals will be fall baseball in Laconia, which is slated to start in about a month. While the laid back, instructional league features players from ages 7-12 all in one league, Boucher hopes that the younger players get a chance for a separate division this fall. Last year Gilford sent two teams to the Laconia league (8-9 year olds, 10-11 year olds), with the younger team having a bit of a difficult time playing against older squads.