Shorthanded VUHS nine still stymies Spartans

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School baseball team already entered this spring with a young roster. And five key team members missed Tuesday’s season opener because of injuries, a vacation and an academic issue. And they were facing a visiting Winooski team with a 3-0 record.
In the end, none of that mattered.
Junior lefthanders Austin Burnett and Colin Babcock, who earned the win and the save, respectively, combined on a two-hitter, and the Commodores got three straight clutch two-out hits in a three-run rally as they earned a 4-2 victory.
Coach George Ringer summed up the day.
“We’re really green, and we have five guys who are not with us for one reason or another, and four of them are pitchers. So we were really hoping for a big effort from Austin, and he pitched well. I mean, he pitched great. And Colin comes in, and he pitched the last couple innings and threw strikes. We had that one big inning with the bats,” Ringer said. “Considering everything we’ve been through this spring, it’s a very encouraging start.”
Burnett was not top on the Commodores’ preseason pitching chart, but with senior Andrew Lucia and sophomores Charlie Stapleford, Zach Ouellette, Devin Hayes and Michael Danyow all unavailable for a variety of reasons, Ringer gave him the ball.
Burnett responded by using a fastball-slider combination to strike out seven and allow only one hit. He walked five, but made the pitches when he had to.
Burnett said he remembered the advice of pitching coach Peter Stapleford when he needed to refocus.
“He says, ‘It’s just a stupid game with a guy throwing a ball and a guy holding a stick,’” Burnett said. “And it helped me concentrate a little bit.”
The game was scoreless through the first three innings, thanks in part to both teams’ adventures in baserunning as well as good pitching by Burnett and Winooski lefty Addison Wheelock. The Commodores had more threats, but had two runners picked off in the early going, one off second base. Burnett also picked a runner off, and another Spartan got doubled off first base on a line drive to VUHS second baseman Nick Richer.
Winooski broke through in the fourth. After a leadoff walk, Devon Rollins stroked the only hit off Burnett. Wheelock sacrificed the runners to second and third, and Steve Lawrence laid down a nice squeeze bunt that got past Burnett to Richer. Richer threw past first, and two runs scored.
VUHS rallied in the bottom of the fourth. With one out, first baseman Ryan Crowningshield lined an opposite-field double to left, and Dylan Bresnick walked.
With two out, Babcock singled sharply to left to load the bases. Right fielder Adam Paquin then dropped a single into short right center, scoring Crowningshield and Bresnick and tying the game. Burnett then poked an opposite-field single between first and second, and Babcock trotted home with what would be the winning run.
In the fifth, VUHS struck again. Shortstop Collin Curler singled, and Richer bunted him to second. Crowningshield ripped a single to right, his third hit of the day, and Curler scored easily when the fielder bobbled the ball.
With Burnett’s pitch count mounting, Babcock came on to pitch and baffled the Spartans for two innings with an assortment of off-speed pitches that kept them off-stride. Two runners reached in the seventh on a single to center and an infield error, but a pop-up to Crowningshield ended the threat.
Burnett said especially considering the circumstances the Commodores were happy with the result.
“Everybody’s really psyched,” he said. “I think we’re doing well so far without a lot of our good players.”
Reinforcements will not be immediate, although Stapleford should return from a trip next week. Ringer said at least all should be back in the fold for the home stretch.
“I’ll be happy if we have three of those five guys back in a couple weeks,” he said. “If you’re going to be in a situation like this, this is a good time of year to be in it.”
 While waiting for help, Ringer will mix and match a pitching staff of Stapleton, Babcock, Burnett, freshmen Timmy Shea and Tommy Lee Hodsden, and Curler in relief.
But he remains optimistic.
“We have a really talented bunch of baseball players, but we’re just really young,” Ringer said. “As you can see, we made a few baserunning mistakes today. There’s a few things we need to sort out. But, yeah, I feel good, really. It’s a good bunch of guys. I’m happy with our team, and it’s just going to get better.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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