By ANDY KIRKALDY
BRISTOL — After not winning a postseason game since 2001, the Vergennes Union High School softball team on Saturday made it two stunning Division II playoff upsets in a span of five days.
On Saturday, the 5-13, No. 13 Commodores defeated host No. 5 Mount Abraham in a 4-3 nailbiter that ended with the tying and winning runs on base for the 11-7 Eagles.
Earlier in the week, the Commodores had knocked off No. 4 Mill River, 9-4, a result that snapped what had been a 12-game losing streak.
Signs of improvement for VUHS had cropped up in recent games, notably in close losses to U-32 and Harwood. First-year coach Mike Sullivan said a number of things have begun to go right.
“We definitely have had some clutch hits. We seem to have minimized the errors. Our defense has definitely gotten better,” Sullivan said.
Senior pitcher Katie Curler, always a hard thrower, has also harnessed her ability. Against the Eagles Curler struck out 12 and allowed just three hits, while walking five.
“She’s worked hard this year, and it’s finally come to fruition for her,” Sullivan said.
Finally, he said, the team has adopted a more positive outlook.
“They’re really letting their mistakes go by, and moving onto the next play,” Sullivan said.
For Mount Abe coach Gene Bell and the Eagles, the loss was tough to take.
But Bell said the Eagles understand their 11 wins probably exceeded preseason expectations for a team that finished with just one senior starter, standout catcher Julia Wilkinson.
“I never thought we would have come this far ... We are still an inexperienced team,” Bell said. “It was a good year.”
It didn’t take long for the Eagles to remember they have a bright future as a group, he said.
“I’m looking forward to next year already,” Bell said. “And the girls are already talking about it.”
On Saturday, the Eagles took a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Amber Fay walked, and Courtney Jipner sacrificed her to second. Fay moved up on a wild pitch, and Wilkinson singled her home.
The Commodores scored next, plating a pair in the third off losing pitcher Shanna Gebo, who tossed a complete-game three-hitter. Margy Kerschner walked, and Devon Lane drilled a long RBI triple. Lane then scored on Sam Flynn’s RBI grounder to short.
The Eagles tied the game in the bottom of the third. Jipner reached on an error, winding up on second base, and moved to third on an illegal pitch call. Gebo the scored Jipner with an RBI groundout.
VUHS scored its final two runs in the sixth. Flynn led off with a single, and Sara Lane pinch-ran. Virginia Joyal then lined a triple into the gap, scoring Lane. Joyal soon followed on a wild pitch.
Mount Abe rallied in the seventh. Laura Livingston walked, as did Fay with one out. Jipner’s RBI single made it 4-3, and both runners advanced on a Gebo groundout. But Curler induced the Eagles’ best hitter, Wilkinson, to pop out to short, and VUHS clinched a berth in a Tuesday semifinal at No. 1 Otter Valley.
Afterward, Sullivan credited both teams for their play.
“The girls played very well,” Sullivan said. “It was a good game. It was a good game to watch, and it was a good game to be part of.”