By Lloyd Jones
CONWAY — The U14 Home Run Bulldogs capped off a 10-game winning streak to reach the 30-win mark, and, more importantly, claimed their first New England Elite Baseball League championship, taking the Division II title on July 22.
The Bulldogs made up of a collection of players from the Conway, Berlin, Wolfeboro and Fryeburg, Maine area, defeated the Mizuno USA Navy team 10-0 in seven innings due to the 10-run mercy rule in an originally scheduled nine inning game for the in Marshfield, Mass.
“It was great,” Greg Allain, coach of the Bulldogs, said on Monday. “It was a long ride in a day just to play seven innings, but it was all worth it.”
Members of the Home Run team are Harrison Keeler, Noah Barrows, Brady King, Cole Bradley, Austin Eastman, Tyler Sprince, Chase Spencer, Dominick Paradis, Parker Coleman, Bryce Micklon, Dylan Bisson and Colby Hall.
Home Run, the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, went a perfect 4-0 in the postseason, outscoring opponents 43-6 while posting three shutouts and ending three contests early due to the mercy rule.
“All through the lineup we got production,” Allain said. “We are a team that can hit with anyone. When we play well defensively and pitch well we can play with anyone in Division I."
Allain shared Monday the Bulldogs will move up to the U15 level and play Division I in the EBL in 2018. That season starts in June, but players will still be on the diamond for 30 or more games.
The Bulldogs went an impressive 30-9 this summer in a season that lasts 10 months with countless hours of practice and dedication from the players, parents and coaches.
“We were 20-9 at one point when we set the goal to get to 30 wins,” Allain explained. “We knew it meant a 10-game winning streak and these guys did it. We closed out the season on a good note.”
The Bulldogs, who went 26-9 during the regular season and 8-0 in the American East Division to claim the No. 1 seed in the double-elimination tournament, were a perfect 3-0 over the July 8-9 weekend in Saugus, Mass., cruising through their bracket to reach the finals.
Home Run beat the Mass Hurricanes from Mansfield, Mass., 7-0; the Vikings National, based out of Melrose, Mass., 10-0 in five innings due to the 10-run mercy rule; and the Saugus Wings Red 16-6.
The Bulldogs met Mizuno USA Navy, who went 3-1 to advance through the other bracket in the finals, which were essentially in No. 2 ranked Mizuno’s backyard.
“They’re a program that has been around for awhile,” Allain said. “We’ve heard their names for sure. This was our year. These guys put in a ton of work over the past 10 months. All the credit goes to the players.”
Bisson, a Berlin resident with ice water in his veins got the start on the mound for the Bulldogs and was lights out. After yielding a leadoff walk and a base hit two batters later, Bisson dropped the anchor on the Navy bats, retiring the next 18 hitters in order to pick up the win.
“Dillon was incredible,” Allain said. “He pitched 6 2/3 innings of one-hit ball, walked one and struck out 11.”
Bisson left to a standing ovation in the seventh with a 9-0 lead after striking out the lead off hitter. Sprince came on to get the final two outs to end the inning.
“We don’t know if we’ll ever get back to a final,” Allain said. “It was important to me that everyone gets into the (championship) game. Tyler is 13, but he’s pitched like a 14-year-old stud for us all season. He came in and threw great.
The Bulldogs scored twice in the first innings and never looked back. They added three runs in the third, four in the sixth, and one in the seventh to end the game. The team pounded out nine hits in the win.
Micklon led the hit parade with a 3-3 performance with a walk and a sacrifice fly. He drove in a run and scored twice.
Barrows was 2-3 with a run scored and drove in a run; Eastman drove in a pair of runs. Paradis, the team’s speedy leadoff hitter and table setter from Berlin, went 1-4 with a double; Coleman was 1-3 with a pair of walks and a run scored; Spencer was 1-3 with a double and two runs scored; Hall was 1-3 with a walk and two runs scored; King had a walk and a run scored; and Bradley walked and score a run.
The team accomplished its goal.
“I had the kids fill our personal and team goals at the start of the season,” Allain said. “I gave them back their lists (on July 5 prior to the start of the tournament). All of them had winning an EBL title on their team list.”
The Bulldogs 16U team recently swept a doubleheader against the Maine Sluggers, winning 2-1 and 8-2. The team just missed the playoffs in a tournament at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., over the weekend. Home Run lost 3-0 on Friday; played to a 4-4 tie on Saturday morning; and won 4-3 on Saturday afternoon.
“All of the games were close,” Allain said. “We had great pitching and our infield defense was phenomenal. Riley Fletcher at third, Devon Oullette at short, Ethan Robitaille at second, and Andrew Leach/Matt Drew were fantastic in the field.
The Home Run program is already gearing up for next year. 2018 Home Run Bulldogs tryouts are coming up. Ages 12 and under will be Aug. 19-20 from 9 a.m. to noon at Conway Elementary School. Tryouts for ages 13-18 will be Aug. 20 from 1-4 p.m. and Aug. 21 from 5-7 p.m. at Kennett High School.