The Monmouth Post 204 baseball team scratched a seven-year itch in winning its first state Legion tournament last week. Today, it begins what it hopes will be a two-week journey to the national championship.

The team, consisting of players from Monmouth, Maranacook, Oak Hill and Winthrop high schools, boarded a coach bus early this morning at Oak Hill High School and thus began the four-plus hour ride to a Burlington, Vt., site of the 2007 American Legion Baseball Northeast Regional.

“They are rarin’ to go. They’re very pumped-up, as I am,” coach Chad Drouin said. “This has been great. The high school championship (that Drouin won with Oak Hill) last summer was awesome, and this has been equally as awesome. I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time.”

Seven years, to be exact. Drouin had led Monmouth to seven-straight state tournaments before it bulldozed the competition at St. Joseph’s College and became the first team from Zone 2 to represent Maine in the regionals since Gardiner in 1971.

The regional tournament begins Thursday with a doubleheader starting at 10 a.m. at Centennial Field. Monmouth (27-1) plays the second game of the twinbill against the New Hampshire state champion, Manchester Post 2 (20-8). The double-elimination tournament continues through Monday’s championship, with the winner moving on to the American Legion World Series in Bartlesville, Okla., on Aug. 24.

Monmouth outscored its opponents, 55-23, in winning four out of five in the state tournament. While the competition from six states (with two from Vermont, including host St. Johnsbury) should provide his squad with a tougher test, Drouin isn’t planning on changing anything from the state tournament, right down to his Game 1 starter.

“We’ll start Mike Eaton Game 1 because we know he’ll bounce back and pitch the championship game, if we get that far, and the other pitchers will fill in behind him,” Drouin said.

“It’s a good feeling to be relied on,” said Eaton, who won three games in the state tournament to improve to 9-0. “I watched Josh Jillson go through that last year (when Oak Hill made its run to the Class B state title) and shine the whole time, and it feels good to be in that kind of spotlight.”

Eaton, like his coach, is, as the saying goes, going to go with what brung him when he takes the mound.

“I’m not going to change anything,” he said. “I probably can’t overpower most of their hitters with my fastball, but I’m going to try to keep them off-balance and keep them guessing.”

The Oak Hill graduate is backed in the pitching rotation by fellow southpaws Justin Denbow, Jillson and Chris Ellis. Drouin said he’ll probably use the University of Maine-bound Jillson, who worked sparingly in the state tournament, in relief for an inning or two if needed early in the tournament. Travis Harwood and Forrest Dwyer could also see action out of the bullpen.

Monmouth’s depth and strength from the left side carries over to its offense. But the key to scoring runs this week could be the speed of the likes of Ethan Guerette and Tavis Hasenfus.

“From the pictures that I’ve seen, it looks pretty big,” Drouin said of Centennial Field. “It looks a lot like Hadlock, where we could get a lot of triples with our speed. Hadlock’s a big park, and we used it to our advantage last year and hit the ball in the gap a lot.”

Monmouth’s hitters won’t have much of a book on the pitchers it faces, but that doesn’t concern Drouin. He wants them to keep doing what they’ve been doing – staying patient, then jumping on the first pitch they like.

“Our approach offensively has always been look for a good pitch to hit. If they groove a fastball early, then that’s what we hit,” he said. “If they’re going to try to make us swing at bad pitches, then they’re going to be sorry, because we don’t do that.”

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