For a third straight summer, the New Milford Express has made its mark on the state and regional youth baseball landscape.

New Milford Youth Baseball/Softball's 11-year-old travel baseball team claimed Cal Ripken state district honors last month and recently played its way through three games in the Ripken state tournament in Norwalk.

That effort comes on the heels of state and New England championships captured two years ago, when many of this year's players made their first splash, and last year's strong run in the state tournament.

"We are so proud of the way we have competed this year," said coach Dan Olson. "These boys have accomplished a lot... this might be the first New Milford youth baseball team to ever reach three consecutive state tournaments."

The Express was also scheduled this week to compete in the Nutmeg Games' U-12 division since there is no U-11 division. The New Milford youths captured gold last year in the U-10 division.

In light of their recent elimination from the state tournament, coach Olson reflected, "That is of little consolation at this point, but these boys keep making history... it really is a great group.

The Express lived up to its name last week with a quick start to its state competition.

Jackson Olson struck out seven rivals during his three innings on the mound and took time to slug a homer, double and two singles as New Milford drilled Hebron, 11-1, its the tournament opener. An 18-hit attack also featured Vin Pallisco with a homer and two singles and Dallas Kelly with a homer and single.

Defending champion New Canaan then sent the Express to the losers' bracket with a 2-1 victory despite a sterling pitching performance by Vin Pallisco.

Cameron Cunningham muscled a roundtripper for the Express' sole run and teammate Tim Rehm slapped a double and two singles in defeat.

What turned out to be the tournament finale for New Milford was an ensuing matchup with familiar rival Newtown. The Express stranded 11 runners and committed several defensive mistakes to succumb, 6-1.

The local youths had trailed, 2-1, in the fifth inning when a potential tying run was denied on a close play at the plate. Soon, the Express was packing its bags.

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The Express previously had captured district honors thanks to an 11-4 conquest of New Fairfield, a 'W' made even sweeter since the cross-lake rivals had handed the New Milford youths their only earlier loss in the double-elimination tournament.

"The Express showed the character of a champion by playing possibly its best game of the year after a tough loss," praised coach Olson. "We played every phase of the game at peak level."

Cameron Cunningham's double, Danny Gonzalez' RBI single and Jackson Olson's two-run homer quickly gave the Express a 3-0 lead and the New Milford youths never looked back.

"Danny Gonzalez was the story of the game," reported his coach, appreciative of his pitcher's strong mound effort. "[He kept] New Fairfield off balance the whole game."

As the Express closes the book on the 2009 campaign, the players also can look back at winning five straight games to claim their own New Milford invitational tournament and also recall experience gained during early season at a regional tournament in Maryland.

-- Norm Cummings