VUHS nine emerge with victory over Tigers

MIDDLEBURY — After surviving four losses in a recent eight-day stretch against some of Vermont’s top Division I programs, the Vergennes Union High School baseball team bounced back on Tuesday with an 8-3 victory at Middlebury, one that extended the Tigers’ own early-season hardship.
The 2-4 Commodores got a tidy five-hitter from sophomore Hunter O’Connor, who settled down after a rocky first inning and struck out seven. VUHS also got some timely hits to take advantage of 10 walks issued by two Tiger hurlers.
Senior third baseman Chris Leach, who drove in runs in each of the first two innings as VUHS took a 5-3 lead, said the Commodores were happy to break through after being outscored, 70-17, in losses to Burlington, Champlain Valley, St. Albans and Essex.
Now that they are past that stretch, Leach said they are also optimistic they can compete in future games.
“It’s nice to finally win,” Leach said. “It’s nice to get some games coming up we can finally win.”
VUHS Coach Dwight Burkett, who guided the team through a JV-only schedule in 2014 and was hired to lead the Commodores in their return to varsity competition, said they remained positive through the tough patch.
“I’m proud of them. They kept their chins up. They kept trying to get better every game. They worked hard on their defense,” Burkett said. “We knew we had a chance to win this game, and they performed. They executed today. Hunter pitched a great game. We hit the ball a little bit.”
MUHS Coach Charlie Messenger’s squad is also dealing with adversity. Senior No. 1 pitcher and key offensive cog Matt Dunton has been lost to a season-ending injury, forcing Messenger to juggle his lineup. And the 0-4 Tigers, too, have faced some tough opponents.
“We hit the ball a little bit harder today, a few more hits. But we’re still learning. We’ve still got new players in new positions, so it’s going to be a process,” Messenger said. “It’s going to take a little while for it to all come together.”
The Commodores scored three in the first off Tiger starter Collin Champine. The inning could have been worse if Champine hadn’t picked off leadoff hitter Camden Simpson after walking him. But then he walked first baseman Dustin Hirtle (Hirtle drew four walks and scored twice), and catcher Devon Kimball doubled him to third base.
A wild pitch plated Hirtle, and Leach singled Kimball home. After another wild pitch, O’Connor singled in Leach, who finished with two hits and two runs to go with his two RBIs.
The Tigers struck right back with two unearned runs in their half of the inning. Third baseman Calvin Desforges (two hits, RBI, run) singled to lead off, shortstop Oakley Gordon reached on an error, and second baseman Joe Hounchell walked to load the bases. A wild pitch scored Desforges, and catcher Bryce Burrell drove in Gordon with a groundout. But O’Connor worked out of further trouble with a strikeout and a grounder to Leach, one of his five plays without a miscue.
VUHS answered with two more in the second. Right fielder Nate Rowell walked, and Simpson sliced a drive down the right field line that went for an RBI triple. Two batters later, Leach scored Simpson with a groundout to make it 5-2.
MIDDLEBURY UNION HIGH School senior pitcher Collin Champine pitches against Vergennes Tuesday afternoon in Middlebury. The Commodores beat the Tigers, 8-3.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
The Tigers picked up an unearned run in the second to make it 5-3. Champine reached on a passed ball as he struck out, left fielder Liam Smith bunted him to second and Desforges knocked him in with a two-out single.
But the Tigers managed just three more hits the rest of the way: Burrell singled in the third, Smith singled in the fourth, and Gordon singled in the seventh. The Tigers were also unlucky in the fifth, when Hounchell walked and Burrell followed with a sharp grounder to third. Leach forced Hounchell at second, but the throw to first was wild. But it hit Burrell and popped right to Hirtle, who tagged Burrell, who had thought he could advance to second.
VUHS scored two in the fourth on an error, a single by Leach and an RBI single by Dylan Raymond and an outfield misplay that allowed the second runner to score. After Champine pitched a scoreless fifth, his day was done: He allowed six hits, seven runs (five earned), walked seven and struck out four.
The Commodores added a run off Gordon in the sixth. He walked Hirtle and Kimball, and Hirtle advanced to third on a Leach lineout to right center. Raymond then picked up his second RBI with a fly ball to left.
Messenger said the Tigers would keep plugging.
“We’re progressing, but I guess not as quickly as I’d like,” he said. “We’ve just got to work on the basics and fundamentals.”
Burkett said he is happy to see his team rewarded for its attitude with a positive result.
“That’s what we told them all along. We’re young. We’re going to learn from every game we lose, and we’re going to try to win the ones we’re capable of winning. And they did that today,” he said. “So I’m really proud of them.”
Leach said the team’s four seniors — he, Raymond, Hirtle and Alex Bushey — are hoping their efforts will help preserve baseball at their school, even if they don’t win a championship.
“It’s unlikely for a ’ship,” Leach said. “But, hey, we’re having fun, keeping the program alive, hopefully, and setting it up so it can win another one.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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