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CUMBERLAND â€” When the Cumberland Major Division All-Stars arrive at the Bart Giamatti Complex in Bristol, Conn. sometime later this morning, theyâ€™re going to have the perfect guide to direct them around the facilities in Jocelyn Bodington.
Thatâ€™s because the 12-year-old standout is the only member of last seasonâ€™s ballclub â€“ coaches included â€“ that participated in the Eastern Regionals and was two victories away from capturing the regional championship and earning its way into the Little League World Series.
The lack of returning players this year may appear to be a red flag for Cumberland, but according to first-year head coach Chris Bodington, thereâ€™s no need at all to be alarmed. As the team heads into its tournament opener tomorrow afternoon, it does so with a battle-tested 13-player roster that boasts a wealth of experience playing outside the state.
Almost all of the players were members of the Cumberland Minor Division All-Star teams that captured the last two state championships and enjoyed long runs in the regionals in Fleetsville, Penn.
â€śOur girls have plenty of experience playing in tournaments like this,â€ť Bodington said on Wednesday afternoon. â€śThatâ€™s definitely going to help us this week.â€ť
The three-time state champions, who are a splendid 9-0 (outscoring its opposition by a 110-18 margin), and in the past three District IV and state tournaments, are a combined 25-1, will kick off their New England pool play schedule at Breen Field with a 12:30 p.m. game against Charlton City, Mass.
After a day off on Saturday, Cumberland will take on New Haven, Vt.â€™s Mount Abraham Little League entry at 2 p.m. on Sunday, and after another day off Monday, they will battle Scarborough, Maine on Tuesday at 11 a.m. and Seymour, Conn.â€™s George J. Hummel Little League team on Wednesday at 8 p.m.
If Cumberland finishes pool play with one of the top four records in New England, the locals will earn a spot in Thursdayâ€™s quarterfinals back at Breen against one of the Mid-Atlantic regionâ€™s top four seeds. The semifinals are set for Friday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and the championship game is later that day at 7 p.m.
After watching his team rough up its opponents the past few weeks, Bodington knows that his players are venturing into a whole new environment in Bristol. Not only will the spotlight get brighter and the competition get a whole lot tougher, but his players will also be playing far away from the comfort of their home surroundings.
They will be spending a full week 110 miles away from Cumberland, living in dorms on the complex with their teammates and a couple of adult chaperones, while their parents, siblings, and fans resort to staying in nearby hotels or taking the long drive each day into the heart of Connecticut.
â€śWe had some sitdowns with the girls and explained to them that itâ€™s important not to stay up late or get caught up in the experience,â€ť added the Cumberland coach. â€śA couple of years ago, the girls said they swam in the pool a lot and stayed up late, but last year, they decided that they werenâ€™t going to do that and they were going to get more rest.
â€śObviously, we want the girls to have fun, but at the same time, we want them to get to bed early and donâ€™t wear themselves out the day before a game.â€ť
Another concern for Cumberland is Breen Fieldâ€™s grass infield. For years, the field had been primarily the home of the Eastern Regional Little League baseball tournament, but since 2011, it has seen double duty, with the softball regionals playing a week before the baseball tourney.
Not playing on a dirt infield that is associated with softball, parlayed with the high percentage of bunts that occur during a normal game, translate into batted balls slowing down a touch on the grass and infielders have a slightly tougher time making their routine plays.
â€śThe other night, the boysâ€™ baseball field was available, so we jumped on that and practiced on the grass for two hours,â€ť added the Cumberland coach. â€śWe explained (playing on a grass infield) to the girls a little bit and we did our whole infield practice on it.â€ť
Ever since his team captured the championship last Thursday at North Smithfieldâ€™s Pacheco Park, taking a 3-1 thriller from Warwick West Side that was their closest contest of the playoffs, Bodington has stressed defense during his teamâ€™s nightly practices, especially since he knows that an error or two in a highly-competitive regional tournament game could spell the difference between victory and defeat.
â€śWeâ€™ve been working a lot on our defense this week,â€ť said the head coach. â€śWe have very good pitching, and sometimes the girls donâ€™t face a lot of action, so we tend to every once in a while have a hiccup. We canâ€™t afford to do that in this tournament, so weâ€™ve been working hard (on defense).â€ť
Speaking of pitching, Cumberland had some very good arms in Bodingtonâ€™s daughter, Jocelyn, a hard-throwing southpaw, Alex Pina, who has split the starts with Bodington, and reliable reliever Dana Jackvony.
Renae Lacroix is their catcher, and the infield is a strong one with Bodington and Pina sharing first base, Cassidy Carr and Mackenzine Vallely at second, Hailey Ballou at third, and Abby Goncalves and Alea Coyle at shortstop. In the outfield is Kaitlyn Dâ€™Abrosca in right field, Chloe Kessler in center, and Alli Mowry, Mackenzie Morin, and Jackvony in left.
Offensively, Goncalves and Lacroix have been setting the table at the top of the lineup, and Bodington, Pina, Ballou, and Kessler have given Cumberland a very strong presence from the No. 3 through 6 spots.
â€śWeâ€™ve been a very good hitting team,â€ť said the Cumberland coach. â€śWeâ€™re pretty deep with our hitting, and I feel I have three strong pitchers. If we play good defense, I think weâ€™re going to do very well.â€ť
(Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24. He will be giving live reports in Bristol, Conn. on Fridayâ€™s 12:30 p.m. game.)