Legion nearing playoffs with wins
MIDDLEBURY — The Addison County American Legion team won three out of five games late last week and over the weekend to remain in the driver’s seat for a Northern Division playoff berth.
As of Monday, AC stood in second place in the division at 12-6. The local nine is 12-7 overall, including a non-league loss to Southern Division leader Rutland.
Essex (12-2) was in first. Also contending for the remaining two Northern Division playoff berths were the OEC Kings (7-5), Franklin County (7-6) and Colchester (7-7). The regular season concludes on Tuesday, and those teams will be playing each other.
AC, which had a front-loaded schedule, visits Essex on Thursday and is set to end its regular season by hosting Montpelier (2-13) for a Saturday doubleheader beginning at 11 a.m.
AC Coach Mike Estey said AC is in a good position.
“It’s not guaranteed we’re going to get in yet, but we’re feeling good,” Estey said. “I really like our chances.”
Castleton State College will host the eight-team, double-elimination Vermont Legion championship beginning on July 24. As well as Rutland, Brattleboro (11-4 as of Monday), Lakes Region (8-5) and Bellows Falls (7-6) look like Southern Division playoff teams.
If AC makes it to Castleton, Estey said the team will be ready to compete, especially after getting fine pitching this past weekend from Nos. 3 and 4 Josiah Benoit and Aaron Smith to complement staff leaders Devin Hayes and Sawyer Kamman.
Estey also said he appreciates AC’s chemistry.
“I really like the way we’re coming around. We’re playing together. Everybody is really starting to gel together and pull for each other,” Estey said.
On this past Thursday, AC defeated host South Burlington, 4-1. On Saturday, AC split a doubleheader with Franklin on the road, winning the opener, 12-0, before dropping the nightcap, 13-4. On Sunday at Middlebury College, OEC edged AC in the opener of a doubleheader, 6-4, but AC picked up a key win in the second game, 6-1.
The 6-1 win in Sunday’s nightcap prevented OEC from taking over second place. Smith tossed a complete-game, 76-pitch four-hitter. He struck out seven, walked none and could have had a shutout — OEC scored in the third when two AC outfielders collided, allowing a fly ball to drop for a triple, a play that was followed by a bloop base hit.
Smith bounced back from a rough outing the day before against Franklin.
“Great job by Aaron this afternoon. He got beat up pretty good in the first inning yesterday,” Estey said. “And today he just went out and took the ball. We weren’t sure who we were going to. He threw 30-something pitches yesterday, and he wanted the ball today.”
AC got all the offense it needed in the first. Smith and Kamman singled to lead off, and Hayes singled them home after they moved up on a wild pitch. A passed ball and Wade Steele single put the runners on second and third, and a passed ball scored Hayes and moved Steele up. Steele scored on Aaron Benway’s groundout to make it 4-0.
After OEC made it to 4-1 in the third, AC answered with a run in the bottom of the inning off one of a half-dozen OEC pitchers. Kamman singled and reached third on a Steele single. Kamman was erased on a failed squeeze bunt, but Steele reached third on the rundown and scored on a wild pitch.
AC got its final run in the fifth when Kamman reached on a fielder’s choice, reached third on Hayes’ booming ground-rule double to left, and then scored on yet another wild pitch.
In Saturday’s opener, OEC scored single runs off Kamman in the sixth and seventh to snap a 4-4 tie and win, 6-4. Hayes started the game but left the mound early because he took a batted ball off his leg. Hayes allowed one run on four hits and three walks in two innings, while Kamman surrendered five runs, two earned, in five innings on six hits and two walks while fanning four.
OEC scored in the first on two singles and two walks, and then took a 3-0 lead in the top of the fourth on a single, a walk, a Sam Cota RBI single and an error.
AC made it 3-2 in the bottom of the fourth. Smith and Kamman walked, Aaron Benway was hit by a pitch, and Joe Hounchell and Benoit walked.
OEC made it 4-2 in the fifth with an unearned run, with Andrew Lyman picking up an RBI single.
AC knotted the score at 4-4 in the bottom of the fifth. Smith walked, Kamman singled and Hayes walked to load the bases. Dylan Raymond plated Smith with a sacrifice fly, and Benway singled home Kamman with two outs.
OEC took the lead in the sixth with an unearned run. After Andrew Graziano reached on an error, Cota singled him home. OEC added a pad run in the sixth on a Rilan Cobb RBI hit. Andrew Lyman picked up the win with 2.1 innings of scoreless relief.
On Saturday, Franklin jumped on Smith for eight first-inning runs on the way to the nightcap win. Raymond and Hunter O’Connor threw in relief for AC. Connor Ryan earned the win for Franklin, allowing nine hits in seven innings.
Hayes had three of those hits. Benway stroked an RBI double for AC, and Josh Stearns and Sam Messenger also picked up RBIs in the losing cause.
The opener against Franklin was ended after five innings by the 10-run mercy rule. AC’s Benoit allowed two hits and whiffed three for his second shutout of the Legion season.
“We’re getting solid starting pitching. Josiah threw a great game yesterday. He kept a good team off balance,” Estey said.
Hayes drilled two homers, scored three runs and drove in three. Stearns doubled twice, scored three times and drove in a run. Benway drove in three runs; Raymond had a pair of hits, scored twice and drove in a run; Smith doubled and scored twice; and Steele singled and scored twice.
On Thursday, AC defeated host South Burlington, 4-1, despite being held to one hit, a Raymond single in the second inning. On that play, an error allowed Raymond to reach third, and he scored on a Hounchell sacrifice fly.
SB scored one run off Stearns, the AC starter, in 4.1 innings. Stearns allowed three hits and two walks and whiffed three. Smith tossed 1.2 innings of scoreless relief, with three hits, a walk and a strikeout, to earn the win. Hayes struck out the side in the seventh for a save.
AC staged the winning three-run rally in the sixth. Hounchell and Benoit walked, and Chris Leach reached on a fielder’s choice, and two errors allowed the runs to score.