September 21, 2019

Rice edges CVU for baseball crown

By Mal Boright
Observer correspondent
No, actor Gary Cooper was not around—it’s been years—but a Saturday High Noon struggle for the Vermont Division 1 baseball championship was an intense thriller much like Cooper’s award-winning western of the ‘50s.
Second seed Rice Memorial High (18-2) outlasted top-seeded 18-2 Champlain Valley Union High 5-2 in eight innings at the University of Vermont’s Centennial Field.
On a warm, sunny and perfect baseball day, much of the heat was in the deliveries of starting pitchers Sam Mikell of CVU and Rice ace Will Hesslink. The Rice lefty prevailed in the end, blowing down the Redhawks with six straight whiffings in the bottom of the seventh and eighth innings. The Green Knights broke though Mikell for three runs in the top of the eighth to cement the final verdict, ironically the same score and number of innings that earned CVU a regular season victory at Rice.
“That’s baseball,” said CVU head coach Tim Albertson as his team members, in quiet disappointment, were picking up equipment to leave the dugout ready for the Division 3 championship game due to follow. “If we were to play these guys 10 times, it would come out five-to-five.”
It was the second straight crown for the Knights, who, last year, with Hesslink on the mound, edged the Redhawks 2-1 in the semifinals.
The game Saturday quickly became the anticipated duel between the two starting hurlers. Pitches (heaters) from both Mikell and Hesslink were clocked in the mid-eighties in the second inning by a scout with a jugs gun.
A serious problem for Mikell and CVU was Rice’s pesky leadoff batter Anthony Phillip. The swift express got on base four times and burned the base paths to score on three occasions, including Rice’s two runs in regulation and the first of the three tallies in the top of the eighth.
In the top of the first, Mikell, in the throes of settling into the game, walked Phillip to open the contest. The scorcher quickly stole second and then came in to score on two throwing errors on Sean Remillard’s sacrifice bunt.
Mikell then found his rhythm with a grounder to first and a pair of strikeouts. He fanned eight through his seven innings of work.
Rice took a 2-0 lead in the third when Phillip, that man again, beat out an infield roller for a single and again stole second. With one out, Hesslink singled cleanly to left, bringing the flying Phillip home with the run.
In the game-deciding top of the eighth, Phillip and Hesslink teamed up again. Phillip led off by getting clipped by a Mikell pitch. Phillip stole second, just making it when catcher Dan Poodiack’s excellent throw was bobbled. Remillard beat out a bunt sending Phillip to third. Remillard then stole second. Hesslink rapped a single to center to bring in both runners and finish Mikell’s day.
Hesslink later scored on a balk as relief pitcher Andrew Bortnick worked out of the inning, striking out two.
“Phillip is a great player,” said Albertson. “You have to keep him off the bases, and we could not.”
CVU got a run back in the bottom of the third on Jed Morris’ walk (Hesslink’s lone ball four pitch), a passed ball, wild pitch and Deagan Poland’s sacrifice fly to right field.
With CVU down 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth, cleanup batter Rayne Supple led off with a thundering double off the wall down the line in left. He took third when Shea Ireland reached on a botched strike three pitch. Mikell’s fielder’s choice grounder to second got Supple home.
After that, Hesslink went all Powder River. Instead of weakening late in the game as he did in CVU’s extra inning win at Rice, it was six up and six down on strikes through the seventh and eighth frames. The solidly built junior southpaw finished with 12 fannings and allowed just four hits.
“Hesslink did a great job,” said Albertson. He also praised the work of Mikell who matched the Rice ace pretty much pitch for pitch through the first seven stanzas.
Game Notes
This pitch count has Hesslink with 106 throws over his eight innings, which is reasonably economical. Mikell tossed 104 before departing the mound for his usual third base position after facing three batters in the top of the eighth
CVU right fielder Jack Dugan made a lengthy run across the foul line to snare Austin Purinton’s fly in the sixth inning.
CVU student Katie Usher delivered her usual stunning rendition of the Star Spangled Banner on the field before the game
Just call Albertson “Pops.” The coach said daughter Juliet was born Friday. She and Mom were said to be doing well. Juliet is the couple’s second daughter.

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