ADDISON COUNTY — This spring three of Vermont’s top four Division II high school softball teams — and almost certainly three of the top 10 overall — called Addison County or Brandon home, and the fourth local team gave two of the others all they could handle.
That depth of talent makes the 2014 Addison Independent Softball All-Star team probably the strongest ever. It definitely boasts the deepest pitching rotation, led by 2014 Independent Softball Co-Players of the Year Dani Brown of Vergennes Union High School and Taylor Aines of Otter Valley.
Over the past two seasons, Coach Mike Sullivan’s Commodores arguably were the best D-II had to offer, winning 32 games against a mostly D-I schedule and reaching the final both years. Joining Brown on the Independent team are two other seniors who joined her to provide the backbone of the VUHS program for the past three seasons, plus a slugging sophomore.
Aines’ pitching and hitting helped Coach Pattie Candon’s Otters to a 15-5 record and the D-II title, earned in a scintillating one-run win in the final over the equally talented VUHS squad. Two other OV seniors and a hard-hitting junior join Aines on the Independent squad.
Meanwhile, Coach Kelly Trayah’s Mount Abraham program also rose steadily in the past three seasons, peaking this year with a 14-4 mark — losing in D-II only to VUHS and OV — and a No. 4 seed. Four Eagles earned spots on the Independent team.
Coach Polly Rheaume’s Middlebury squad also took a step forward this year, winning seven games and losing seven by only one, two or three runs, including tight games to VUHS and Mount Abe. A Tiger sophomore cleanup hitter slugged her way onto the Independent squad.
Selections were made based on observation, statistics and consultation with the coaches. Because of the high quality of play, a baker’s dozen of all-stars were selected. Congratulations to the following:
DANI BROWN, VUHS SENIOR, CO-PLAYER OF THE YEAR. Notes: Dedicated herself to pitching in the offseason, work that paid off … Did not allow an earned run in 40 regular-season innings while compiling a 6-0 record … Finished at 8-1 with 110 strikeouts and allowed only 26 hits and five walks in 61 innings … Mastered four other pitches to go with her fastball … Dangerous cleanup batter who hit .440 with two homers and 22 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .500, scoring 12 times, a figure that would have been higher without courtesy runners.
Sullivan’s Quotes: “She really refocused her efforts this year … She can throw a rise ball and a drop ball, and in addition to throwing a 58 mph fastball she throws a pretty good curve, too, and she can sneak in a change-up … She’s always had a great swing … Anytime she comes to the plate, it definitely makes the opposing pitchers think about the situation.”
TAYLOR AINES, OV SENIOR, CO-PLAYER OF THE YEAR. Notes: Capped an outstanding senior season with a terrific playoff run: a 4-0 pitching record with an ERA of 1.00, including two shutouts, no earned runs in the final, and 31 strikeouts, five walks and 13 hits in 28 innings … Amassed 10 hits and two walks in 19 playoff at-bats, with a double, a homer, six RBIs, and 10 runs scored, including the seventh-inning tiebreaker in the final … Overall, hit .486 with 32 runs, 22 RBIs, three doubles, two triples and three homers … Compiled a 14-5 pitching record in 121 innings with 115 strikeouts, allowing 48 walks and 66 hits.
Candon’s Quotes: “She carries the team on her back … She’s come so far in the last year ... If something was off, she just seemed to accept it and keep going … She improved so much on the mound … She’s gets good solid contact … She didn’t get down on herself, and she didn’t get down on her teammates.”
TAMARA AUNCHMAN, VUHS SOPHOMORE.Notes: Rapidly improving defender with quick feet and a strong arm … Emerged as one of the Metro Conference’s premier power hitters with six homers, two doubles, 15 runs and 32 RBIs … Batted .417 and showed a good eye at the plate, drawing 10 walks for an on-base percentage of .493.
Sullivan’s Quotes: “She came on strong defensively at the end of the season … She hits the ball as hard as anybody … She’s just an incredibly strong kid, and when she gets hold of the ball it’s just an incredible thing to watch ... She’s got a great arm … She should have a couple more incredible years, I think.”
BRITTANY BUSHEY, OV SENIOR. Notes: Outstanding defender at third base with quick feet, sure hands and a strong, overhand throwing arm … Defensive player of the game in the D-II final … Smacked a two-run homer in the quarterfinal to snap a scoreless tie … Leadoff hitter, smart base runner and good bunter who batted .419, scored 29 runs, drove in 18, and hit two doubles and two homers.
Candon’s Quotes: “She’s just a gutsy player … She has very quick reactions… She wants to put in the extra time ... She’s always looking to improve herself … When she makes contact, she hits with authority … She’s very quick.”
HANNAH LAWRENCE, MUHS SOPHOMORE. Notes: Split time between catching and serving as the designated hitter, batting .490 against Metro pitching and reaching base at a .540 clip … Hit with authority, pounding nine doubles and a triple … Drove in 18 runs and scored 11 runs, participating in about 30 percent of the Tiger offense … Stole five bases in six attempts.
Rheaume’s Quotes: “Hannah is a perfectionist. She gets upset with herself if something goes wrong … She is an extremely passionate and talented player … I could put her at any position on the field and she would do a good job … She’s definitely an asset on the team.”
MEGHAN LIVINGSTON, MT. ABE SENIOR. Notes: Quick, slick-fielding shortstop with soft hands and an accurate arm … Good bunter who batted .377 out of the leadoff spot and reached base at a .457 clip … Also flashed some power with four doubles, a triple and two homers … Used her speed well offensively and stole 10 bases.
Trayah’s Quotes: “Meghan is a great athlete and person. Her leadership was earned not by words but how she approaches everything she does … She’s a well-balanced player who can make some incredible plays in the infield and then lay down a perfect bunt … Players like Meghan are rare and she will be missed.”
TAYLOR PAQUETTE, VUHS SENIOR. Notes: Excelled at the plate and on the mound while providing key leadership and solid defense at shortstop, especially in the playoffs … Hit .350 and drew 16 walks for an on-base percentage of .487 … Drilled six doubles, two triples and a homer, driving in 19 runs and scoring 20 … Compiled a 3-1 pitching record, allowing 18 hits and two walks while fanning 28 in 28 innings with an ERA of 1.25.
Sullivan’s Quotes: “She’s a very patient hitter … She had good solid numbers … She was definitely a leader, our most vocal person, always ready to work hard … She’s very versatile, a really good player, a good pitcher … She was our player with the most complete tools.”
CORTNEY POLJACIK, OV SENIOR.Notes: Played steady defense at shortstop and had an outstanding year at the plate, putting up local highs in batting average (.493), homers (eight, including a stretch of seven in seven games) and RBIs (39) … Also smacked five doubles and three triples, scored 25 runs and drew seven walks for what Candon called the best offensive season at OV in at least 20 years … Singled home the winning run in the seventh inning of the final.
Candon’s Quotes: “Defensively, she’s got a strong arm and good range … She’s a very fun kid to be around, so positive … She’s very, very coachable, and willing to do whatever you need her to do … (During her home run streak) I would ask her what she was doing, and she would say, ‘I don’t know, Miss Candon.’ And I would say, keep doing it.”
SAM REISS, MT. ABE SENIOR. Notes: Played superb second base this season, making all the plays and committing only one error … Batted .466 with an on-base percentage of .515 out of the No. 2 spot in the order … Scored 17 runs and drove in a 12, and lined a pair of doubles.
Trayah’s Quotes: “Sam worked very hard on becoming a high-quality infielder … Her footwork approaching the ball and around the bases was exceptional … Sam also was a great contact hitter … Even her outs were hit well … Her work ethic towards improvement is what made her so special.”
MELANIE ROTAX, MT. ABE SENIOR. Notes: Smooth-fielding, power-hitting centerfielder who had another excellent season … Showed speed and a strong arm in the outfield and played errorless ball … Batted .464 with an on-base percentage of .545 and hit four doubles, five triples and three homers … Drove home 22 runs out of the cleanup spot and scored 26.
Trayah’s Quotes: “Mel was our anchor in the outfield … She has great range and tracks the ball better than anyone I’ve seen … Offensively she hits the ball hard and has a very smooth swing … Her leadership and skills will be missed.”
MARGARET SANTELL, OV JUNIOR. Notes: Transferred to OV this year and took over the cleanup spot, batting .470, scoring 26 runs, driving in 14 and drilling six doubles … Fine outfielder who also filled in capably at third base when needed … Better known as Megan, and even better known to her teammates as A-Sap.
Candon’s Quotes: “She brought so much to our program with her skill, her swing, her throws … She just has a soft pair of hands … She fit right in and was always just so upbeat. I’ve never seen her without a smile … She was always helping out and always willing to do what we asked of her.”
EMILEE TRUDO, VUHS SENIOR.Notes: Versatile, all-around player who started at pitcher, third base and second base before settling in at first base this season ... Compiled a local best on-base percentage of .626 by showing a good eye at the plate and drawing 25 walks to go with a .414 batting average … Adept bunter and smart baserunner who scored 18 runs, drove in six and stole 10 bases … Also compiled a 3-1 pitching record.
Sullivan’s Quotes: “She’s another very patient, very smart hitter … She can play anywhere in the infield … Emilee is probably my best fielder … She throws the ball on a rope … I felt very confident that any ball thrown within 20 feet of first base she was going to catch … She was always working hard and being supportive of other players.”
MADI WOOD, MT. ABE SENIOR. Notes: Versatile, skilled defender who spent most of the season catching but also played well at third base … Contact hitter who took over the No. 3 spot in the Eagle batting order and hit .464 with an on-base percentage of .545 … Drove in 11 runs, scored 19, stroked four doubles and stole six bases.
Trayah’s Quotes: “Madi was the picture of a team player. She would do whatever the team needed to succeed … She had one of the quickest bats and often sent the crowd down the third base line scattering to avoid a hard hit ball … Her confidence and leadership is what led me to choose her for the team’s coaches’ award the last two years.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.