July 31, 2008
By Mal Boright
The S.D. Ireland American Legion baseball team earned the second seed in this weekend's Northern Division Tournament and is slated to open play in the double elimination event Friday afternoon against Addison County at the Middlebury College field.
Observer photo by Ben Sarle
S.D. Ireland pitcher Nick Angstman fields a ground ball during Saturday’s American Legion game against South Burlington.
Game time is around 4 p.m.
The Green and Gold Irelands beat Addison, which finished 13-5, twice during the regular season.
Coach Jim Neidlinger's Irelands appeared to have the division title and tournament top seed in their back pockets until they dropped three of their last five regular season contests and two of their last three. In Tuesday's finale, played at the Irelands' home field at Champlain Valley Union High School, the Colchester Cannons beat the home team, 4-3. The win gave the Cannons a 15-3 mark, good enough to nudge the 14-4 Irelands out of first place.
“We have to do a better job of small ball and the little things,” Neidlinger told his team as he started preparing it for the tournament immediately after the contest with the Cannons.
Weighing heavily was a serious case of LOB (left on base) disease. The Irelands stranded 15 runners against the Cannons after leaving 12 on Saturday in a disheartening, 5-4, eight-inning defeat in South Burlington against the Knights of Columbus aggregation.
On Monday, Whit Mikell helped the Irelands to a 5-0 victory against Franklin County in St. Albans as he fired a two-hit masterpiece.
“It was Whit's best game of the season,” said assistant coach Onnie Matthews, adding that the veteran right hander was throwing in the 85-mile-per-hour range.
Sluggers for the Irelands in the victory were outfielder Jared Badger with three hits and second baseman Anthony DeToma, who had a pair of hits.
The win took some of the sour taste from Saturday's loss to South Burlington, in which the Irelands coughed up a 4-1 lead by giving up three runs in the bottom of the sixth. They then lost on a walk and three scratch ground ball hits in the bottom of the eight when the K of C snapped a 4-4 tie.
The Irelands had taken early command in the game as Shane Montani slugged a second inning solo homer and hot-hitting Nick Angstman blasted a double and three singles, driving in two runs.
Angstman, the starting pitcher, fired five innings of one-hit ball before weakening in the sixth when South Burlington tied the game on three singles and a pair of walks.
Battle for first place
On Tuesday, the Irelands took an early 2-0 lead on Colchester. Justin Raymond led off in the first with a double to right and later scored on an RBI grounder by starting pitcher Paul “Bear” Handy.
A bases-loaded walk to DeToma provided the second Ireland run in the bottom of the second frame.
The Cannons struck for four runs in the top of the third on three singles, an RBI double, a hit batter and four stolen bases. They never surrendered the lead.
It was Colchester's only offense of the game. Relief pitcher Connor Mellen came on with two out in the third and retired 10 of the next 11 batters in 3.1 innings of hitless chucking. Angstman worked a scoreless seventh.
Frustrating for the Irelands was the offensive side of the game. They left the bases loaded three times, including twice when they packed the sacks with just one out.
In the bottom of the second, when it looked as if the home team might break the game open, Angstman launched a one-out screaming drive to right, only to have Cannons right fielder Travis Dulude roll to his right and fall to the grass, arms extended, to grab the sinking liner for the second out. Shocked Ireland runners did not advance and were stranded when Colchester reliever Spencer Dauderand picked up a strikeout.
The Irelands loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the fifth, only to have the next two batters retired on outfield fly balls.
Montani's RBI single drove in the Ireland's third run in the sixth, but Mikell's two-out fly to deep center with runners at second and third was hauled in by Colchester center fielder Zack Aubin after a long run.
A two-out, bases loaded situation in the seventh went by the boards when Colchester closer Dulude whiffed the game's final batter.
The Irelands collected five hits in the game but were beneficiaries of 11 walks and one hit batter while two reached on errors. That's 19 on base in seven frames, but only three touched home plate.
Hopes are high that starting Friday the line drives will find places the fielders are not located.
Colchester also opens the division tournament on Friday, with a game against fourth place Orleans-Essex County.