By Mal Boright
July 25th, 2013
Coach Jim Neidlinger and his 9-12 S. D. Ireland American Legion baseball team had just the slimmest of hopes for making the field of the State Tournament after a late season surge went flat Saturday and Sunday.
The tournament gets underway Thursday at Castleton State College and includes four teams from the north and four from the south in a double elimination format to determine the state champion and New England regional participant.
Addison, Essex and Colchester had three of the north seeds and Montpelier clinched a shaky fourth going into the final weekend of the regular season.
The late charge began a week ago last Saturday with an easy win at South Burlington. Three more triumphs followed before a wrenching15-8 defeat last Saturday at South Burlington and Sunday’s split of a twin bill against the Essex-Orleans-Caledonia Kings Sunday at Lyndon State College.
“We thought we could withstand one hiccup,” Neidlinger said during the run.
The second hiccup, an 11-2 loss to the Kings following a 9-8 first game victory, proved very hurtful.
But with slim hopes remaining, the Irelands hammered the visiting Burlington Lynx 9-2 in a must-win makeup game Monday at the home Champlain Valley Union High pitch and swing yard.
The throw meister of the day was Ireland righty Austin Purinton, who limited the Lynx to but a pair of hits, fanned seven and at one point retired nine straight batters, which became 13 of the final 14.
“I used mostly a fastball and curve,” he said after the game.
Ireland bats were thumping. All nine starters took part in the parade of 15 hits with Will “Long Gone” Conroy launching a line drive two-run homer over the fence in center to start the haps in the three-run first frame.
Davis Mikell rapped a double and two singles to drive home two runs, Hayden Smith doubled and singled while Ryan Fleming singled twice and had a ribbi. Larry Halvorson connected for two singles and drove home a tally.
At OEC Sunday, The Irelands took the opener, helped as Fleming became the day and week’s Salami Slugger. The third baseman whacked a grand slam homer to help the Irelands to a 9-1 lead and they held on as OEC rallied to get within one run at the end.
The nightcap was all OEC.
At South Burlington Saturday, the Irelands took an 8-8 deadlock into the bottom of the eighth where the hiccup became a complete breakdown as the homies chased over seven runs with an old fashioned battennanny.
The Irelands had opened with three runs in the top of the first before South Burlington ripped on the Green Guys’ starter Mikell for five in the bottom of the stanza, Max Smith producing the big blow, a grand slam homer.
Mikell then settled down and gave up only two runs and two hits over the next three innings while slugging a solo homer in the top of the fourth to put the Irelands in front, 7-6.
Fleming, who had three hits including a triple, took to the mound in the bottom of the fifth and threw well until the horses got loose in the bottom of the eighth. In the top of the sixth, Halverson had uncorked a bases-empty homer to put the Irelands up, 8-7.
That round tripper was about all the Irelands could do with South Burlington lefty Connor Bradley who came on in the sixth and closed out the game.