Seemingly always in the hunt for baseball honors, the New Milford Express youth baseball team will compete starting this weekend in Norwalk for a New England Babe Ruth 13U championship.

The Express claimed a big prize last weekend by winning three straight tournament games to earn the state Babe Ruth title for its age group. It was believed to be the first state championship earned by a New Milford baseball team in Babe Ruth competition.

New Milford had previously claimed District 4 honors by outplaying Newtown, 5-1, in the final.

Many of this year's Express squad have played with the team as it has wreaked havoc on its age group in state and regional baseball over the past five seasons, four times playing for state or New England titles.

In tandem with titles won by other New Milford age-group teams, the Express' accomplishments have boosted New Milford Youth Baseball/Softball program to five state championships since in the past five years.

"To think New Milford had never won a state championship prior to 2007," reflected coach Dan Olson. "Our program has now won five since that time. That is quite a remarkable accomplishment. New Milford has really become a hotbed of baseball in the area."

The Express won its state title last week and earned an invitation to this weekend's diamond party by beating Simsbury, 5-4, and Darien twice, 5-2 and 6-1.

Defense and the savvy pitching of Cooper Knight keyed the title win.

Darien moved out quickly in the first inning to a 1-0 lead, but the Express righthander proceeded to use his control and change of speeds to stifle the Fairfield County club through the final six frames.

The Express defense made no errors for the third stright tournament game.

"We told Cooper to let us know when he couldn't go any longer," said coach Olson. "He did not want to come out, and it paid off for us."

The defense was anchored by Jackson Olson with two outstanding plays among his six assists and catcher Tim Rehm with three running grabs of pop fouls.

"Our defense up the middle was incredible," said coach Olson. "It sounds cliche, but if you defend up the middle, you can win ballgames."

A five-run second inning proved the difference for the Express.

Vinnie Pallisco walked, Billy Butler singled, Jack Titus walked and Knight singled two runs in. Matt Delafield added an infield single, Tim Rehm had an RBI single and Danny Gonzalez had an RBI fielder's choice.

Knight led the bat attack with three hits. Through the six-game post-season to date, New Milford's pitching staff of Olson, Rehm, Pallisco and Knight had allowed only 14 runs.

"It really was our pitching that put us over the top," said coach Olson. "And when the defense is playing like it has, that combination is tough to beat."

Reflecting on the season to this point and the Express' overall record, coach Olson offered plenty of praise.

"We are so proud of this group. Some of these boys have been a part of two state championship teams... this is four years out of the last five we have played in the state championship game. It has been an incredible run."

"This group of boys comes to play with a very no nonsense approach," he said. "They take this game seriously and play it the right way. It is great to be a part of this."

The Express will open New England competition Saturday at 1 p.m. at Brien McMahon High School vs. the Rhode Island state champion.