PEABODY — With only four returning players from last year’s team, the Peabody Tanners 12-year-old Little League Softball All-Stars weren’t quite slated as favorites at the start of the summer tournament season. But now they’re ready to roll into the regional round, which begins this weekend with Saturday’s (4) game against Pennsylvania.
All regional round games will be played in Bristol, CT and the tournament is modified double-elimination. The Tanners left for Bristol bright and early Friday morning at the crack of dawn and will remain there until next Thursday, when they hope to bring another banner back to Peabody. This is Peabody’s first appearance in the Little League regionals.
“The kids have to be nothing but proud of what they’ve accomplished,” Peabody manager Mark Bettencourt said. “We lost last year in the state final and lot of people thought that was best team we had. We came right back this year and that’s remarkable.”
Peabody cemented its bid in the regional round last week, when the Tanners swept a double-header over Westfield to win the Massachusetts state championship. The Tanners blanked Westfield in both game, winning 7-0 and 2-0.
Abby Bettencourt pitched a complete-game shutout in the first victory and Avery Grieco, Peabody’s No. 2 pitcher, followed with a similar performance in the nightcap.
“They gambled and threw their No. 2 pitcher in the first game, we threw our No. 1 pitcher in the first game,” Bettencourt said. “Then it flipped in the second game. They threw their No. 1 and we threw our No. 2. That’s what made Avery’s performance so special. Abby had pitched 99 percent of our games. For Avery to come in and throw five innings of shutout ball, she showed she’s ready when we need her.”
At the plate, the Tanners are led by Grieco from the No. 4 slot of the order, along with Abby Bettencourt, Logan Lomasney, Peyton Petrillo and Kiley Doolin.
Bettencourt noted that Peabody’s offense remains a question mark moving into the regional round as the team won’t know what type of pitching it will face in the upcoming games.
“Offensively, that’s always our question mark,” Bettencourt said. “You don’t know who you’re going to face. It’s kind of like in baseball. When you play the Red Sox and Chris Sale’s pitching it’s going to be a low scoring game. In these games it all depends on who we play. No one knows who top team is.”
Stout defense has also been a key ingredient of Peabody’s winning recipe.
“I think by far the strength has been our pitching,” Bettencourt said. “Abby has been pitching very well and that’s the first key. The second key would be our defense. Our catcher, Logan, throws runners out and that’s crucial. We play great defense and that’s obviously helpful.”
Defensively, Lomasney has called an excellent string of games behind the plate, Petrillo has played a stellar shortstop and Hailey Roach has been solid at second base. Peabody’s youngest player, Elizabeth Bettencourt, also Mark’s daughter, has played great defense at first base.
And Peabody’s outfielders, including their substitutes, haven’t missed a beat. Although Bettencourt and Grieco don’t allow many opposing batters to put the ball in play in the outfield, the Tanners outfielders have gotten the job done when needed.
Mia Philbrook and Marissa Simmons play left field, Kiley Doolin and Alana Sweeney team up in center and Jessica Steed and Penelope Spack pair up in right field.
“They’ve made every play hit to them,” Bettencourt said of his outfielders. “Sometimes it’s hard to play a position when you don’t get a lot of action because you tend to relax. Our defense has done an amazing job in these past eight wins. We’ve only allowed one run in those eight games.”
Bettencourt, along with with assistant coaches Jeff Roach and Ryan Lomasney, said getting the Tanners to Bristol was a true community effort. Fundraising was a major part of making the trip to regionals possible.
“The fundraising has gone well,” Bettencourt said. “It’s hard because we’re only given four days to raise the money. I’ve been going around the city posting the GoFundMe page in every store and restaurant. We’ve asked for donations from several companies, the people we’ve asked have been very generous.”
Regional round games will be streamed on ESPN+.