April 21, 2011By Mal Boright Observer correspondent
A solid opening day victory over a highly regarded foe can unleash a sense of optimism toward the new season.
And the Champlain Valley Union baseball team did just that, defeating a strong Mount Mansfield Union team, 6-4, on April 15.
CVU now looks ahead to three games in six days.
The season’s second outing is Thursday, a trip to Missisquoi Valley Union (4:30 p.m.) in Swanton. The Redhawks will then be on the home diamond Saturday (11 a.m.) to meet a formidable Rice Memorial squad and on Tuesday when Vergennes rolls into Hinesburg for a 4:30 p.m. tilt.
When Mount Mansfield squared off with CVU on a sunny but chilly afternoon, the odds seemed stacked in the favor of the veteran visiting Cougars, who were coming off a 14-4 season and with senior righty Sam Spencer on the hill. Spencer threw a no-hitter against the Hawks last spring.
The possibility of another gem by Spencer quickly went by the boards when CVU’s second batter, junior shortstop Tucker Kohlash, lined a shot down the third base line. Cougar third baseman Jeff Sutherland made a nifty lunging backhand stop but had no play at first.
The Redhawks’ Drew Nick then got to second when his fly to the outfield was dropped, putting two runners in scoring position with only one out.
Up to the plate strolled sophomore Davis Mikell for his first varsity at-bat. Apparently free of rookie jitters, the husky Mikell lined a 1-1 pitch into centerfield to drive home Kohlasch and Nick. Mikell went to second when pitcher Curt Echo reached on an infield error. He then scored on Kirk Fontana’s RBI single to right.
Given an early lead, Echo was solid on the hill for the Redhawks.
After working through some wildness in the first inning, the junior right-hander took a no-hit shutout into the fourth and whiffed eight before leaving with two outs in the fifth after Spencer’s two-run homer slashed CVU’s lead to 4-3.
Echo showed a combination of pitches that included added heat to his fastball and an ability to paint the corners of the plate with speed and curve.
“(Echo) has worked hard and it has paid off,” CVU pitching coach Onnie Matthews. “He is just going to get better.”
The Cougars got their first run, unearned, in the fourth when Grant McKinstrie lined a single to right to score Sutherland, who had reached on an infield error and stolen second.
CVU got the run back in the bottom of the inning. Tim Jones got a triple on a high fly that was misjudged in the outfield, which drove home Jeff Badger, who earlier singled with two out.
After Spencer’s round tripper in the top of the fifth, CVU coach Tim Albertson brought Nick to the mound. Nick’s former American Legion teammate, MMU’s Shayne DeLabruere, unloaded a circuit clout over the fence in right that tied the score.
MMU coach Brian Chandler relieved Spencer with lefty T.J. Wesson to start the bottom of the fifth and Nick greeted the southpaw with a double. Two wild pitches later, Nick was home and CVU had a 5-4 lead it would not relinquish.
The Hawks added another tally in the sixth on a series of walks, hit batsmen, errors and an infield hit by Tim Jones.