By Mal Boright
The S. D. Ireland American Legion baseball team got its season off to a quiet four-hit beginning last Thursday in a 3-1 loss to Addison at Middlebury.
But that was then.
The bats that slumbered on Thursday came alive at their home Champlain Valley Union High field opener on Sunday with a 7-3 victory over Montpelier and continued Monday with a 4-3 triumph over an Essex team that brought an 8-1 record to the fray.
The 2-1 Irelands were scheduled to meet Addison at CVU on Tuesday, but a daylong rain took charge and forced postponement.
Essex returns to CVU on Thursday at 5:30 p.m., followed by visits from Franklin County on Saturday at noon and South Burlington on Sunday at noon. The Irelands travel to Franklin County on Monday for a 5:30 p.m. contest.
The thriller with Essex was a “sort of” road game for coach Jim Neidlinger’s charges, who were the visitors because the Essex ball yard was not available for the scheduled fixture.
Trailing 2-1 to Essex and sharp lefty pitcher Steve Jurkiewicz going to the top of the sixth inning, the Irelands uncorked a barrage of six hits, including three doubles in the closing two innings to gain the victory.
“That was good,” said Neidlinger noting that the bashing came from throughout the line-up.
Jurkiewicz was working on a string of four straight strikeouts—he had 10 for the game—when Josh St. Clair ignited the rally in the sixth with a two-out double off a glove against the fence in deep left center. Dillon Ritchie followed with a two-bagger to left to tie the game at 2. Dylan Ireland and Kirk Fontana then singled, with Fontana’s shot scoring Ritchie to put the Irelands up 3-2.
Essex came back to tie the contest at 3-3 with an unearned run in the bottom of the sixth, but the Irelands restored their edge in the top of the seventh. With one out, Curt Echo crushed a line single to left for his third hit. Larry Halvorson launched a clutch two-out double to plate Echo with what would be the winning run.
Big Davis Mikell, a late inning closer during CVU’s Division 1 title campaign, issued his second walk of the game to start the bottom of the seventh and final frame. He then retired the next three batters while notching his eighth strikeout.
“Yeah, my arm feels pretty good,” Mikell said after the 118-pitch route-going job.
“Seventy-eight per cent of those pitches were strikes,” said Assistant Coach Onnie Matthews.
Mikell allowed only one earned run, driven home on Luc Salerno’s second inning double, the lone extra base blast by Essex. Five of the 10 hits off the righty were of the infield roller variety.
“This was a good win but we still have work to do,” said Neidlinger, no doubt mindful of his team’s five miscues in the field. Solid fielding plays came from outfielders Will Conroy and St. Clair, with acrobatic grabs of line drives for important outs.
Conroy laced a double and two singles in Sunday’s victory over Montpelier, and he also pitched the final two and two-thirds innings to save the victory for Echo, the starter.
Echo carried a one-hit blank job into the top of the sixth when a walk, error and two singles led to two unearned runs, bringing Montpelier to within 4-2 of the Irleands. Echo was relieved with one out in the seventh and another unearned run in. Conroy fanned five and allowed but two hits over the final frames.
Mikell and Halvorson smashed doubles and Jeff Badger drove in a pair of runs with a long sacrifice fly and infield out.