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Panther baseball earns NESCAC series victory

BRANDON — It’s way too early to say the defending Division II champion Otter Valley baseball team has picked right up where the Otters left off from 2013’s 17-1 campaign.
But at least so far, so good, despite the program’s significant losses to graduation.
On Monday, the Otters jumped on visiting Windsor early on the way to a 10-2 win, one that coupled with their 6-1 Friday win at Bellows Falls gave them to 2-0 start to their season.
After a lot of time spent in the OV gym while their field dried out (and OV coach Tim Mitchell cleared snow and ice off it with a backhoe at one point), this year’s new-look Otters were happy to have a chance to prove themselves.
“We knew we would be a solid team,” said senior right fielder Shane Quenneville, who set the tone with a leadoff inside-the-park homerun vs. Windsor, the first of his four hits. “We just had to wait and find out.”
As always, Mitchell remained cautious, pointing to a couple mental mistakes and two seventh-inning errors that gave the Yellowjackets their second run. He said the miscues are understandable given the lack of outdoor practice time, but wants things tightened up before his team faces tougher games down the road.
“We put up some big numbers today, swung the bat well and everything, but we panicked, and there’s no reason to panic. Most likely we’re going to go in the gym tomorrow and have a big pow-wow,” Mitchell said. “But you know what, it’s our second game, it’s their (Windsor’s) first time on the field. We’re shaking off the rust.”
Mitchell didn’t argue with OV’s flawless and at times outstanding infield play, especially that of junior shortstop John Winslow, whose diving stop in the second inning saved a run, and senior second baseman Will Claessens, who fielded seven chances cleanly and teamed up with Winslow to turn a crisp double play in the fifth.
Their play helped make a winner of senior pitcher Tyler Jones. Jones went 4.2 innings, allowing eight hits, two walks and one run in the fifth on three two-out hits before Claessens came on to end the threat with a strikeout. Claessens tossed the final 2.1 innings, allowing two hits and an unearned seventh-inning run while fanning three.
OV scored four in the first, starting with Quenneville’s homer, a scorching line drive down the right-field line that tipped off the first basemen’s mitt and then rolled past the outfielder to the fence as the speedy Otter circled the bases.
Senior third baseman Dean Douglas walked, and he was forced at second as Winslow reached on a grounder. Winslow stole second and scored when Windsor booted senior catcher Mike Winslow’s grounder. Sophomore third baseman Tyler Allen singled, and he and Mike Winslow both scored when Jones doubled to left center, the first of his two hits. Windsor starter Tyson Boudro (four innings, six hits, six runs, four earned runs) worked out of further trouble.
Jones and the OV defense stranded six Windsor runners through the first four innings, and the Otters tacked on two more runs in their half of the fourth. Claessens reached on an error, and senior first baseman C.J. McCullough bunted him to second. Quenneville followed with a towering, opposite-field triple to right to score Claessens, and he came home on Winslow’s booming double to center.
Windsor broke through in the fifth, but the damage might have been worse if not for the double play Winslow and Claessens turned after a leadoff single. With two out, Russell Simonds doubled and scored on a Matt Thayer single. After another hit, Claessens fanned the next batter to end the threat with OV up, 6-1.
OV scored four more off reliever Nick Kapuscinski in the sixth. Claessens and freshman Derek Aines singled, and Quenneville singled in Claessens, and Aines scored when Quenneville was tagged out in a rundown. John Winslow poked a wind-blown double and scored on an error as Mike Winslow reached. Allen singled in Mike Winslow for the final run.
The Otters were hoping to get in a Wednesday game at Mill River after the deadline for the Independent sports section, but it looked like it might be postponed until later in the week. They are then off until they host Fair Haven on April 24.
Games will come fast and furious after that, and Mitchell said OV should be well armed for a busy schedule.
“We have six capable pitchers,” Mitchell said. “That’s going to be a huge advantage.”
And Quenneville said he believes the Otters will have another edge.
“As a group we are very confident. The seniors now have been best friends since before we came to Otter Valley,” he said. “We know we have the chemistry to do it.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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