It will be the red-eye. The red-eye bus, that is.
The bus carrying the state champion Bangor Junior League All-Stars to the double-elimination East Regional in Freehold Township, N.J., will depart Friday at 4 a.m.
This will be their sixth appearance in the East Regional in 10 years and their fifth in a row.
Bangor received a first-round bye and plays Sunday at 4 p.m. against the winner of Saturday’s game between Freehold Township and Maryland champion Talbot Little League.
Bangor enters the tournament with a 7-0 record after going 4-0 in the districts and 3-0 in the state tourney.
Last year’s team went 2-2 in the East Regional and coach Jim Owens and the three returning players off that team feel this team may be even better than last year’s.
“We have more pitching depth and our defense is stronger,” said first baseman-pitcher Brendan Moore.
“We made a lot of errors last year,” said catcher Hunter Boyce, who added this team is more consistent defensively.
“This team makes the plays [defensively],” agreed right fielder Josh Landry.
Landry also said they have “very strong pitching.
“We had two strong pitchers [Gregg Duff, Bryan Rouleau) last year but we have more [than two] strong pitchers this year,” said Landry.
Nick Leach, who features a good fastball and knuckleball, leads the pitching staff in wins with three. Hard-throwing J.B. Birmingham has two wins, curveball specialist Cody Collins has a win and Justin Ireland has a win and save.
Ireland, who has a good curve, has been effective out of the bullpen along with Moore, who gives them a quality lefthanded option with a good curve and changeup.
Boyce said their pitchers aren’t overpowering but they have good control.
Offensively, Owens said the 2009 team and this year’s club are about the same.
He said he has received an important contribution from everybody in the lineup at one time or another.
Boyce said they had more power hitters last year but this year’s team has more contact hitters.
“We put the ball in play. We’ve had very few strikeouts,” said Moore, who is one of the offensive catalysts with a team-high 14 hits and a .519 average.
He is one of seven players hitting at least .400 along with pitcher-infielder Collins (.533), third baseman Nick Ashey (.500), left fielder Reid Brookings (.462), Boyce (.444), second baseman Andrew Hiller (.417) and shortstop Justin Courtney (.400).
Center fielder Leach has been a productive leadoff hitter, drawing several walks to go with his .316 average, and Landry has hit a respectable .273 from the nine spot in the order.
“The bottom of our lineup has been very good. Everyone has been hitting,” said Ashey, who has made some exceptional defensive plays according to Owens.
Sam Huston is a solid back-up catcher and Kenny Colpritt and Tyler Kenney provide strong depth in the outfield.
The players are looking forward to the tournament and they know what it will take to win.
“Our pitchers have to pitch to contact. They have to throw strikes and let us make the plays,” said Courtney, one of three players who played on last year’s state championship Bangor East Side Little League team along with Houston and Hillier.
“We’ve got to take advantage of our scoring opportunities,” said Moore. “There are a lot of close games down there.”
“We can’t afford to make errors,” said Boyce.
Owens and assistant Dennis Libbey have been coaching the Junior stars together for more than 14 years and Jim Landry is in his second year helping them.
Bangor’s two wins last year ended a two-year drought as they had gone winless in 2007 and 2008.