VERGENNES — In Saturday’s continuation of the Division II softball semifinal game, the No. 2 Vergennes Union High School Commodores outlasted previously undefeated No. 3 BFA-Fairfax, 3-1, to advance to Monday’s final against No. 5 Otter Valley.
Saturday’s game was started on Wednesday but was suspended with VUHS leading in the bottom of the first, 2-0, and then in what has been a prevailing theme throughout this season, rain caused the game to be moved to the weekend.
VUHS then pushed another run across in the first, and winning pitcher Dani Brown (three hits, one walk, nine strikeouts) allowed only one fifth-inning run as the 17-2 Commodores earned the right to face the 14-5 Otters and avenged playoff losses to Fairfax in each of the past two seasons.
While the Commodores are undefeated in D-II this season, OV has only two D-II losses, and avenged one of them by blanking Mount Abraham in a D-II quarterfinal.
VUHS coach Mike Sullivan said he and his team expect a tough game.
“You have to have some level of confidence, I suppose. We’ve gotten this far,” Sullivan said. “They’re definitely a very legitimate team. We’re going to have our hands full.”
Last week’s game between VUHS and Fairfax was a rematch of the 2013 D-II final, won by the Bullets, 4-1. But before the rains intensified on Wednesday, the Commodores took the lead this time.
Commodore senior pitcher Dani Brown retired the Bullets in order in the top of the first inning. But with the rain coming down a little harder, Bullet ace and Vermont Gatorade Player of the Year Kayla Mathieu struggled with her control vs. VUHS. Mathieu walked leadoff hitter Kayla Charron, and threw two wild pitches, allowing Charron to advance to third.
VUHS senior first baseman Emilee Trudo followed with a bunt single, with Charron holding at third. Mathieu then tossed another wild pitch, scoring Charron and advancing Trudo to second. Senior shortstop Taylor Paquette then put down a sacrifice bunt, and a fielding error allowed Trudo to score and Paquette to reach second. After Mathieu walked Brown, the umpires suspended play until Thursday. But rain again bumped the game ultimately to Saturday.
When play resumed on a dry field, Mathieu’s control did not immediately improve. After VUHS third baseman Tamara Aunchman laid down a sacrifice bunt, moving the runners to second and third, second baseman K.C. Ambrose walked to load the bases. Phoebe Plank then walked to bring home Paquette from third, and the score was 3-0, Vergennes.
But Mathieu (two hits, six walks, nine Ks) settled down to work out of further trouble by inducing two ground-ball outs. The only other baserunners she allowed came in the third, when Aunchman singled for the only other hit, and then Ambrose and Plank walked again. But Mathieu got out of trouble with a strikeout and popup.
The Bullets got baserunners on board vs. Brown only in three innings: the fourth (on a Sierra Benoit single), fifth and seventh, and they scored in the fifth.
In that inning, Kayla Nester walked, moved to second on a passed ball and scored on an Ashley Williams single, all with none out. Then came what Sullivan called the defensive play of the game: Aunchman raced in to catch a bunt and doubled Williams off first with a strong throw. Catcher Felicia Armell then threw out the next runner trying to bunt her way on.
The Commodores played errorless ball behind Brown, Sullivan noted.
“They played very well,” he said. “They just seemed to be right on top of everything.”
In the seventh, Nester singled with two out, but Brown struck out the final batter to end the game.
Fairfax coach Geri Witalec said the Commodores deservedly won the contest and ended the Bullet’s championship reign.
“Wednesday was tough, certainly not ideal conditions for either team.” Witalec said, “We definitely can’t blame this result on that. Do I in hindsight think it would have been a better decision not to start the game, sure, but I don’t want to take anything away from Vergennes. They earned it.”
Witalec also praised the VUHS senior pitcher.
“Dani Brown is phenomenal. We knew coming into this game that we could never get too comfortable in the box,” Witalec said. “She has a great selection of pitches. It’s rare you are going to see that fastball right down the middle of the plate.”
Sullivan confirmed on Sunday that the Otters would also see Brown on the mound on Monday at 7 p.m. in Poultney. That alignment allows his other ace pitchers, Paquette and Trudo (Trudo pitched in the 2013 final, and Paquette faced the Bullets in a 2013 quarterfinal), to play short and first, respectively.
“Everything just seems to fall into place behind her much better,” Sullivan said. “She does have great spin on the ball, and kids have a hard time squaring it up.”
VERGENNES UNION HIGH School senior Dani Brown struck out eight BFA-Fairfax batters in the Commodores’ 3-1 win Saturday afternoon.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell