VERGENNES — After being held hitless for four innings by Middlebury freshman pitcher Payton Buxton, the Vergennes Union High School softball team broke out the big bats in the fifth inning to score four times and rally from a 3-1 deficit and claim a 5-3 victory.
Leadoff hitter Kayla Charron started the rally with a double to center, and winning pitcher Taylor Paquette’s one-out double to left-center made it 3-2. Clean-up hitter and first baseman Dani Brown lined an opposite field single down the right-field line to plate Paquette and tie the game, bringing third baseman Tamara Aunchman to the plate.
Aunchman scorched a shot to left center, a ball that probably never rose more than 20 feet off the ground and cleared the fence easily, and the Commodores led for the first time, 5-3.
The win also improved VUHS, the 2013 Division II runners-up, to 4-1 and allowed them to bounce back from their only loss, a 17-2 setback to Essex last week when they played without three starters off on a school trip. The Tigers fell to 1-4, with their four losses coming by a total of seven runs.
Paquette was asked how the Commodores finally broke through against the hard-throwing Buxton, who allowed just those four hits, walked four and struck out 12. Paquette said the adjustment was in attitude rather than mechanics.
“Payton is a very good pitcher. She’s got nice movement, and we haven’t seen that a lot lately, and it took us a little bit to get used to it. But we’re a strong enough team where even if we’re down we’re able to work and get out of it,” Paquette said. “We were in the dugout. We were all standing up. We were all cheering, we were all yelling. I think that has a lot to do with the game, the power of the team.”
Paquette also had to overcome her own slow start — she allowed seven hits, four in the first two innings. The Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the first when leadoff hitter Abby Lane reached second on an outfield error, and shortstop Carsyn Buxton legged out an infield hit and stole second. Both scored when catcher Hannah Lawrence drilled a single up the middle.
Third baseman Krisandra Provencher followed with another hit, but Paquette worked out of trouble with two of her nine strikeouts.
VUHS got one run back in the bottom of the inning when Charron also reached second on an outfield error, second baseman Emilee Trudo walked, and Paquette reached on an error to load the bases. Brown drove in Charron with a grounder to first, but Payton Buxton, like Paquette, stranded runners on second and third with two strikeouts.
Paquette and Buxton — and both defenses — then settled down. Paquette pitched around Tiger DH Rachel Howlett’s leadoff triple in the second by striking out the side, but that was the only hit or runner from either team to reach third base until the fifth.
In that inning, Lane singled to lead off, moved to second on a Carsyn Buxton sacrifice bunt and to third on a passed ball, and scored when Lawrence singled to make it 3-1.
After the Commodores broke out the thunder in their fifth, the Tigers rallied with two out in the sixth. Howlett reached on a passed ball on a third strike, and Payton Buxton doubled to put the tying runs in scoring position. But Paquette struck out the next hitter and followed with a 1-2-3 seventh.
Paquette said after her slow start she discovered her curveball was working well, and she used that pitch to keep the Tigers off balance.
“Sometimes the pitches aren’t working for me at first. And I found out one pitch was working for me later on, so that’s what I started using more of, and I think that’s what ultimately helped me settle in,” she said.
MUHS coach Polly Rheaume said her team played well.
“It was just that one inning where they got a couple hits in a row and then that home run. That really hurt. But other than that I think they had a really good defensive and offensive game,” Rheaume said. “They were getting their bat on the ball.”
Because of what she said is her team’s strong work ethic and positive attitude, Rheaume believes it’s just a matter of time before the Tigers start winning close games — she pointed to the several times MUHS had runners in scoring position on Tuesday but couldn’t bring them home.
“They just can’t seem to get those hits right in a row when we get someone on second or third,” Rheaume said. “Taylor had a good game pitching. Payton had an excellent game pitching. It’s just one of those things where one hit makes a difference.”
VUHS coach Mike Sullivan was happy to see Brown; K.C. Ambrose, who played well at shortstop on Tuesday but typically plays second base when Trudo or Brown is on the mound; and center fielder Phoebe Plank return after their school trip. He remains confident in his team once they have a little time together as a unit again.
“There’s a little bit of rust there,” Sullivan said. “The bats were a little behind today for the three of them. But it’s nice to have them on defense.”
He also noted the strength of local softball: As of Wednesday, Mount Abraham (which will visit VUHS on Tuesday) was 7-1 and in first place in D-II, Otter Valley was 5-3 and its only D-II loss was to Mount Abe in extra innings, and MUHS had proven to be competitive.
“It seems like Addison County softball is where it’s at right now,” Sullivan said.
Regardless of the strength of competition, Paquette said the Commodores are “keeping their eyes on the prize” that just eluded them a year ago.
“Our team is definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with now that everyone’s back,” she said. “We’re definitely as strong as we were last year, if not stronger.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.