July 21, 2011By Mal Boright Observer correspondent
Having climbed into the North Division’s third seeded position with a five-game winning streak late last week, the S.D. Ireland American Legion baseball team heads to Rutland and Castleton this weekend for the annual eight-team double-elimination state tournament.
Coach Jim Neidlinger’s aggregation will open its title bid Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. against the south’s second seed, 13-3 Brattleboro, at St. Peter’s Field in Rutland. The outcome will determine when and where they play on Saturday.
“It is really important to win that first game,” said Neidlinger after the team’s practice at Champlain Valley Union High School on Monday.
He added that a loss in the opener would require a tough slog of five or six wins in a row for the title.
Neidlinger was hopeful that his charges would rise to the tournament challenge in a similar way to their recent solid performance in the Coopers Cave tournament in Glens Falls, N.Y. There, the Irelands won three of five games and were competitive in all outings against strong regional clubs.
In the state tournament, the Clover Boys will be without key veteran outfielder-pitcher Shane DeLaBreure. He broke a finger sliding into a base last week and is sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Regardless, Neidlinger and pitching coach Onnie Matthews are hoping the Irelands can, in the words of famed chef Emeril Lagasse, “kick it up a notch” in the tournament.
Both coaches were unimpressed with the team’s recent clutch hitting, despite ending the season with five straight victories.
Neidlinger cited several gift runs but a lack of good situational hitting that could have blown games wide open.
The pitching, however, drew praise.
“We pitched well,” said Matthews.
In the final Northern Division standings, Essex and Colchester shared the top rung with 12-2 marks. The Irelands took third (10-4) and Addison (9-5) was fourth. Bennington (16-0) ruled the south.
The surge to end the regular season began Thursday (July 14) with a 4-0 triumph at Burlington, a team that bumped off the Irelands two days earlier at the CVU field. Dan French fired a snappy four-hitter and fanned five. Curt Echo’s fifth-inning triple helped end a scoreless tie. Sean Rugg socked a pair of hits and drove in a run.
On Friday (July 15), the Clover Crowd motored to Lyndon State College and thrashed the Orleans-Essex-Caledonia Kings, 14-2. Rugg threw a complete game six-hitter and joined in the batting fireworks with three hits. Echo and Sam Fuller blasted three hits each.
Saturday (July 16) brought a doubleheader victory over Knights of Columbus, South Burlington. Nicky Elderton won the 5-2 opener with a relief stint and also contributed an RBI single. Drew Nick’s pitches in the nightcap evaded South Burlington bats to the tune of 12 strikeouts in a 5-3 victory.
OEC came to the Irelands’ home field on Sunday and the Clovers prevailed, 14-2. Echo worked six innings for the win and allowed just two hits. Rugg smashed three hits, including a two-bagger and drove in two runs. Jeff Badger went 3-for-4 with two RBIs.