Improving Ireland Legion team heads to N.Y.

By Mal Boright
Observer correspondent

Its two-game win streak nipped in a classic 1-0 duel at 8-1 Essex on Tuesday, the S.D. Ireland American Legion baseball team was then host to Essex on Wednesday at the Champlain Valley Union High field.

The game was to be played after press deadline.

Following a trip to Waterbury for a 5:30 p.m. game on Thursday, the Irelands will by and large be in a New York state of mind for the next week as they participate in tournaments in Granville, N.Y. from Friday through Sunday and Glens Falls, N.Y. from Tuesday to Thursday.

On Monday, coach Jim Neidlinger’s crew — which features some Williston players — will be home to Waterbury for a 5:30 p.m. contest.

What started out as a difficult weekend wound up with plenty of positives on Sunday, Monday and, yes, Tuesday in Essex.

After losing a 12-inning marathon 9-8 to then unbeaten Knights of Columbus, South Burlington at showery Hinesburg on Saturday, the Irelands lost another squeaker, 10-9, to the Colchester Cannons at home Sunday morning.

But with bats booming, they then lowered a 9-2 shelling on visiting Montpelier Sunday afternoon.

A Monday trip to Colchester resulted in a 4-3 victory over the Cannons.

Tuesday was a day for the slingers rather than the sluggers. Right handers Sean Rugg of the Irelands and Sam Spencer of Essex just about matched each other — just three hits for each team — until Essex pushed across a run without the benefit of a hit in the bottom of the sixth to prevail. The entire test lasted just over an hour.

The lone tally came when Essex’s Bryce Couchier led off with a walk and stole second. He took third on a ground out to second and scored on Adam Picard’s fly out to medium right field.

Essex had come close in the bottom of the fifth, loading the bases with one out on two walks and a single. But then a suicide squeeze attempt went awry when Rugg grabbed a pop up off the bunt try and threw to shortstop Drew Nick, who alertly hustled over the third to double up the base runner.

Rugg, who carried a no-hitter into the fourth, walked four and whiffed two and benefited from two double plays started by Nick.

Spencer, who tossed a no-hitter for Mount Mansfield Union against CVU in the high school season opener in April, walked none while fanning five. Nick had two of the hits, a two-out double in the first and a single in the fourth.

Ryan Machavern, Ireland’s first baseman, noted Spencer throws hard and his fastballs appear to rise en route to the plate.

Down 1-0 with two out in the top of the seventh and final inning, the Irelands gave Essex something to think about. Rugg snapped a sharp single to right center and second baseman Nick Elderton lifted a high fly to deep center, which got chased down by Jared Benoche to end the scintillating game.

Offensive explosions

Agreeing that the season so far for the 4-8 Irelands is a work in progress, Neidlinger said Sunday’s win over Montpelier was a step up and could lead to more good things.

On Monday, his team made the coach a prophet and found more success. With Shane deLaBruere and Dan French doing the hurling, French picked up the win with three-plus innings of relief.

deLaBruere rapped an RBI double while Nick and Joe Myers socked two hits each, Nick also getting a ribbie.

In polishing off Montpelier on Sunday, the Irelands exploded for 15 hits including four from Curt Echo, who was behind the plate for the day’s second contest. He drove in a pair of runs, as did Elderton (3 hits) and deLaBruere with a double. Andy Kent, Rugg and Myers had two hits each.

Starter Theron Fuller took a four-hit shutout into the eighth before tiring and giving up four hits and two runs. Fuller got the win with help from Collin Teator, who got the final four outs.

In the opening loss to Colchester, deLaBruere bopped three hits. Rugg and Elderton each drove home three tallies.