By Mal Boright
With few remaining from the 2012 championship squad, who would have thought that a second straight Division 1 baseball championship would be in the cards for Champlain Valley Union High?
But coach Tim Albertson is an optimist, and while 12 members of last season’s title team were gone, a few scrappy veterans and solid young up-and-comers remained.
After Monday’s midnight doings at the University of Vermont’s Centennial Field that resulted in a 4-3 victory in 11 innings over top-seeded Essex High, the Redhawks once again are the Division 1 champions.
The tense struggle had the Vermont Principals Association rewriting some of its baseball history:
It was the longest Division 1 title game.
CVU became the first Division 1 repeat champion since Missisquoi Valley Union in 1988, some 25 years ago.
Essex and the Redhawks made for the first neighborly all-Chittenden County Division final since 2002.
CVU halted a 13-game Essex win streak that included a 3-1 regular season triumph over the Redhawks.
The classic struggle rolled into the 11th inning with two lights-out hurlers, CVU’s Rayne Supple and the Hornets’ Luke Salerno seemingly set to duel into the wee hours.
But in the top of the frame, the Redhawks took advantage of rare Essex misplays. Dylan Ireland singled and eventually scored the go-ahead run after a sacrifice bunt and three errors. Pesky ninth-in-the-order batter Deagan Poland drove in the big tally with a bouncing grounder to short with pinch runner Erik Bergkvist easily dashing home from third.
Supple then blanked the Hornets in the bottom half of the frame to complete a classy and clutch relief effort of six hitless, scoreless innings, in which he fanned six.
Starter Davis Mikell of the blazing fast ball worked the first five innings and allowed four hits and three runs (two earned) while striking out eight and, rare for the big righty, walking five.
Both hurlers were effective in cooling off the Essex bats, a big job indeed. The Hornets came into the fray with an oh-my-gosh .389 team batting average which had produced 120 runs in their 18 outings.
Nevertheless, the Redhawks appeared tout fini when the bottom of the seventh rolled around. They had been held to but four scattered hits by Essex lefty starter Steve Jurkiewicz (5-1 record), who had struck out 10 through the first six cantos in a dominating performance.
Poland, that man again, led off with a slick bunt single down the first base line that he easily beat out. Hayden Smith singled to deep short and suddenly CVU had a serious threat going.
After a strike-out, Mikell unloaded a solid single to right center to drive in Poland and send Smith to third.
Essex coach Chris Richard then brought his other ace, Salerno (7-1) to the hill to face CVU senior catcher Kirk Fontana. The veteran lashed a hot liner to center for a single to score Smith and the contest was knotted. It was Fontana’s second hit and second RBI.
Albertson’s tactic to squeeze home a potential winning run was then barely nipped at the plate.
Essex had scored single runs in the first three innings as lead off batter Josh Baez (.422 average) pounded a pair of singles and drove home one of the runs.
Trailing 2-0, CVU got a run back in the top of the third when Poland led with a single and eventually scored on Fontana’s initial hit.
‘We fought hard all season,” Fontana, a co-captain, said to the television cameras during the happy celebration that followed the game.
“We played as a team,” said the sophomore Supple.
CVU finished 16-4 and Essex 16-3.
The Redhawks got to the final with a 7-0 semifinal home win over St. Johnsbury Academy, in which Supple went six innings and allowed but four hits while striking out seven and Mikell zapped a one-two-three seventh. Potter smacked a pair of hits and a ribbie while Ireland produced a two-run bingle.
Norm Tourville and the CVU grounds crew did legendary work in getting the field ready for the semifinal. The recent rains did not stop until 9 a.m. and thanks to hard work, the field was finally ready for baseball at 2 p.m. for the 3 p.m. start.