Strong pitching lifts Commodore baseball over MUHS

MIDDLEBURY — The rivalry between Middlebury and Vergennes union high school teams on the baseball diamond always seems to bring excitement, especially with precious playoff points at stake.
Such was the case on Tuesday, when for the third straight game the Commodores received a stellar pitching performance, with the result being a 9-1 victory over Middlebury. The win moved the defending Division II champions to 9-6 as the season turns toward June. With the loss, the Tigers dropped to 3-10 in the competitive Metro Division.
“We are getting in the groove,” said winning pitcher Charlie Stapleford, who threw six innings of three-hit baseball for VUHS. “People are getting back from injury. We are doing a lot better as a team, having our heads in the game.”
Stapleford kept the Tiger offense at bay while striking out seven and allowed only two batters to reach base through the first four innings. Using an overpowering fastball and a sharp curveball, Stapleford was able to keep the Tigers off balance. Stapleford painted the corners like an artist while using his biting curveball to put away MUHS hitters.
“Charlie, once again, pitched well, which is encouraging,” noted VUHS coach George Ringer. “We’ve had three good outings in a row from our starters.”
VUHS brought a scoreless streak of more than 17 innings into the Middlebury fourth, until the Commodores surrendered their first run since a 5-2 loss to CVU on May 16.
While Stapleford tamed the Tiger offense, the Commodore bats supplied the punch to give Stapleford breathing room, scoring early against Tiger ace Tyler Provencher. In the top of the first, Zach Ouellette reached base on a walk. Stapleford followed by reaching on an error. Wade Steele singled sharply into left field, scoring Ouellette, and Devin Hayes sent a fly ball into center field to score Stapleford, giving the Commodore pitcher a two-run cushion before he took the mound.
“Tyler was off,” MUHS coach Charlie Messenger said after the game. “(But) the pitching hasn’t been the problem; they didn’t kill us with the hits. We just got to get back to playing good baseball. That’s pretty simple.”
VUHS scored two in the third. A rally started when Ouellette singled to left field. Stapleford helped out his own cause by blasting a drive into left field that hit high off the wall for a double that brought Ouellette around to score. Stapleford advanced to third on a Steele fly to left and scored on an error.
Middlebury finally broke through in the bottom of the fourth. Aaron Smith led off by lacing a first-pitch fastball into left field. After advancing on a passed ball, Smith reached third on a grounder to first and eventually came home to score on another passed ball.
In the fifth, the Tigers once again threatened to mount a rally. Willis Varno led off by drilling a 1-2 curveball into center field, and a walk to Josh Stearns put runners on first and second with none out. Stapleford struck out the next two batters, however, to avoid any damage.
Despite solid pitching performances from Provencher, Taylor Patterson and Smith, the Tigers made six errors that led to only four earned runs.
“We just got to get back to playing good baseball,” Messenger said. “That wasn’t good baseball. We gave them too much defensively … Our key is defense, and once we start booting the ball around and get down, it’s tough to get back in the game.”
The Tigers still have time to right the ship before the playoffs arrive as they have two games set for the rest of the week and an opportunity to gain momentum for the stretch run.
At the same time, the Commodores appear to be putting the pieces together at the right time in order to defend their title, but they still know the goal is far from being complete.
“I’m hoping we are kind of on our way to the playoffs,” Ringer said. “We just try to keep a positive outlook and the energy up. I personally think we will do the best we can, no predictions. But we aren’t going to do anything special (to prepare), we are just going to keep playing hard.”
That sentiment is echoed from the players, as they see that their vision is not fully complete and are entering the postseason both humble and confident.
“We (have to) take it one pitch at a time, really try to focus on every inning,” Stapleford  said. “As we know from last year’s title game, it’s never over until it’s over.”
Marshall Hastings is working at the Independentas an intern this summer.

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