Strong pitching the key for S.D. Ireland

Mal Boright
Observer Correspondent
August 7, 2008

Despite four division defeats in the last two weeks of the regular season, the S. D. Ireland American Legion baseball team had to feel good about its chances in the double elimination Northern Division tournament that opened Friday at Middlebury College.

S.D. Ireland, with its 14-4 record, was seeded second.

A three-day double elimination tournament requires, above everything else, pitching depth, and the Green and Gold guys — hailing from Charlotte, Hinesburg, Huntington, Shelburne and Williston — had a platoon of capable arms.

For starters, there was veteran Whitney Mikell, who won a pitching award in the division tournament last August in South Royalton. Add to that, veteran lefty Paul “Bear” Handy and righty Nick Angstman were both coming off strong seasons.

Another starter who has pitched effectively is Justin Raymond. Lefty Justin Teator has also had success, as had Theron Fuller, an efficient reliever.

Late inning fire-ballers were righties Connor Mellen and Evan Roeser, who moves to the mound from third base or shortstop when needed.

Mellen, who is just getting the old flames (90 mph) back after recent arm surgery, was lights out in his two most recent appearances prior to the tournament.

In a late season game in South Burlington on July 26, Mellen came in during the bottom of the eighth with the score tied at 4. But the fates give him and the Irelands a cold shoulder.

Mellen had four straight Knights of Columbus batters reach, only one on anything resembling a clean hit. The first was a slowly hit tap to deep short that the batter barely beat out. Next was an infield grounder deflected from the waiting hands and glove of second baseman Anthony DeToma, who might have had a double play had the ball gotten to him.

Then, with runners at first and third, coach Jim Neidlinger ordered an intentional walk to set up a force play at home.

But a modest ground ball single up the middle against the drawn-in infield plated the winning run for South Burlington.

Three days later, an undaunted Mellen, who had done his job but without much luck, fired 3.1 hitless, dominating relief frames against the Colchester Cannons, whiffing two and retiring 10 of the 11 batters he faced.

That was the game in which the Irelands had the better pitching and fielding — one error to four by the Cannons — but left 15 runners on for want of some put-’em -away bat work with runners on the sacks.

The efficient relief job of the season award has to go to Teator. In late June, with the Irelands clinging to a 6-3 lead over the Burlington Lynx in the top of the eighth, bases loaded and no outs, Teator came to the mound. First pitch became a grounder to short for a force at second while the Burlington runner at third scored. Second pitch: a liner to short for out number two. Next batter: three pitches, all strikes, third out. Inning over on five throws from the mound.

Neatly done.

Mellen then took over in the ninth to earn the save.