Despite early exit from Babe Ruth regional, this is just the start for the Keene 15s

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Jul. 30—It feels a bit like the end of an era.

Or is it the start of one?

Tuesday marked the end of the road for Greater Keene Babe Ruth 15U team, a 7-6 loss to Three Corners (Vt.) in nine innings during the semifinals of the New England regional, but it's certainly not the end of the road for this group.

This year's regional tournament was the fourth time this group has qualified for regionals since they started playing competitive baseball together at nine years old, including winning the tournament last year as 14s. They went on to compete in the Babe Ruth World Series.

Now, some of them have graduated from the Babe Ruth league, but for most, it's only the beginning.

"That might be it for Babe Ruth, but ... it's going to fun watching them for the next three or four years while they're home and see where some of their careers progress after that," said manager Dave Miller. "I'm obviously proud of them. I've been coaching them a long time. I said it coming in: If they play their game, they're almost unbeatable. They know I'm proud of them. They're mentally tough. They fight and they claw for every last inch."

Miller knew this group was special, which he said motivated him to push to host the New England regional tournament this year. Keene got the bid and hosted a weekend full of baseball at Alumni Field and the Keene State College baseball field.

"Being at home is always better, said Jake Hilliard, who hit .417 during the four-game run. "You're around your family, your friends. You get to play home game and when you do well in your home games around your family and friends, it's a much better feeling."

The Keene 15s started the tournament hot, winning its first three games to end pool play 3-0 and earn a first-round bye in the bracket. Keene beat Waterford (Conn.), 7-6, in walk-off fashion to kick off the tournament before beating North Providence-Smithfield (RI), 12-2, in five innings. Keene then beat Sanford (ME), 10-0, in six innings to wrap up pool play.

Zak Whitney — a rising junior at Keene High — threw a no-hitter in the final game of pool play against Sanford. He only gave up two hits in his 10 innings pitched throughout the tournament. He didn't give up a single earned run.

Keene earned day off after pool play and was matched up with Three Corners in the semifinal round of the bracket. After falling behind 6-2 heading into the sixth inning, Keene stormed back to tie the game at six and force extra innings. Fitch Hennessey hit a two-run double in the sixth inning to cut the deficit to 6-4, then Torin Dubriske hit the game-tying, two-run single with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to send the game to extras.

"I was thinking, 'Don't get out,' " Dubriske said after the semifinal game. "'Jump on your pitch. The first strike you see, hit it.' "

Dubriske hit .385 through the tournament and was a spark at the bottom of the lineup. He had four RBIs, including three in that semifinal game.

Even after Dubriske's two-out, two-run single to send the game to extra innings, it was ultimately Three Corners that scored in the ninth inning to advance to the regional championship game, where it lost to Lynn (Mass.), 7-5.

"It was a fun experience, we just shut down at the wrong time," said Hennessey, who struck out 15 hitters in his 8.2 innings pitched during the tournament. "We played good baseball up until then, and just lost our steam. Wished for a different result. But, hey, good fans and everything."

"A game every day, it's something fun thing to do," Dubriske said. "And it was nice going home every day. Staying home, not having to stay in a hotel. Wish we can do it again."

Keene had six guys finish the tournament with a batting average above .300: Taylor Miller (.444), Hilliard (.417), Dubriske (.385), Sean Callahan (.364), Whitney (.333) and Chase Elliott (.333).

"I've been with these guys for a while," Hilliard said. "We've never given up, even if the game is close or we were way behind. We always do our best, no matter what situation we were put in."

Despite any looming disappointment that came with the early exit in the regional tournament, there's little doubt that many who were part of this 15U team will continue to have a major impact on the baseball diamond moving forward.

"Take a step back from 10,000 feet and you take a look at the time these kids were nine years old to 15 years old, they've certainly had their downs, but they've also certainly had their ups," said Coach Miller. "Every once in a while, you get a team that's a certain age that comes through Keene and they win state titles and go to regionals and — like last year — win regionals. This is one of those teams and they'll remember it.

"They should be proud of what they've accomplished over the past seven or eight years," Coach Miller added. "Most of them are going to keep pushing on in high school and some of them even further than that. Proud of them."

Chris Detwiler can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1411, or cdetwiler@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Detwiler.