Eagle nine ekes out a 4-3 victory over VUHS

BRISTOL — The unofficial Addison County high school baseball crown this year goes to Mount Abraham, who on Tuesday completed a sweep of their local rivals by holding on to edge improving Vergennes, 4-3.
The Eagles (4-7) had earlier blanked both Otter Valley and Middlebury, both behind the pitching of Tuesday’s complete-game winner, senior Mike Jerome.
Jerome (seven innings, three earned runs on six hits and four walks, nine strikeouts) outdueled Commodore sophomore Hunter O’Connor, who in five innings allowed four runs, three earned, on four hits and four walks while also striking out nine.
“It was a good high school game,” said Mount Abe coach Jeff Stetson. “Both pitchers threw real well, I thought.”
VUHS coach Dwight Burkett, whose 2-8 team had defeated Middlebury on May 5, was disappointed to come out on the short end, but happy to see the Commodores continue to improve.
“I think we continue to work hard and get better each game,” Burkett said. “It was a close game, a good ballgame.”
Both pitchers breezed through the first two innings. Jerome fanned four, allowing only a single to VUHS first baseman Dustin Hirtle; and O’Connor, who owns both VUHS wins, struck out the side twice while issuing a walk in each inning.
Mount Abe drew first blood in the bottom of the third. Senior second baseman Joey Payea singled with one out, and sophomore center field Chris Wood walked. They moved up on O’Connor’s errant throw trying to pick Payea off second base, and then scored on consecutive suicide squeeze plays.
Senior shortstop Ernie Brouillard could not get the bat on the ball on either, but one pitch sailed high and the other bounced in the dirt, and VUHS senior catcher Chris Leach could not handle either cleanly as the runners scored. Brouillard then doubled, probably making that issue moot. One out later, sophomore third baseman George Bailey poked an opposite-field double down the right-field line, and Brouillard trotted home to make it 3-0.
Jerome ran into trouble in the fourth. VUHS senior shortstop Dylan Raymond singled with one out, and Jerome walked O’Connor. Jerome then balked, moving the runners to second and third. Raymond scored on freshman left fielder Will Wormer’s RBI groundout to short. Jerome then dropped the ball during his setup, another balk, moving O’Connor to third, and then threw a wild pitch to score the run.
Jerome admitted to feeling unsettled at that point.
“I was excited, a rivalry game,” he said. “I let the nerves get the best of me, but I came back.”
His curve ball and a slider Jerome said he discovered while warming up kept the Commodores off balance.
“I picked that up in pregame. I started trying it today. It ended up working,” Jerome said.
The Eagles picked up an insurance run in the fifth, making it 4-2. Wood reached second base on an infield throwing error, and scored on junior first baseman Matt Mullin’s two-out single, a bouncer that hugged the third-base line.
Jerome and Leach, on in relief of O’Connor, pitched scoreless sixth innings, but the Commodores made a run at the Eagles in the seventh. Junior right fielder Josh Sickles started the rally with a single, and freshman center fielder Camden Simpson reached on a fielder’s choice that erased Sickles. Simpson stole second and scored on sophomore Devon Kimball’s two-out single.
A wild pitch moved Kimball to second, and Jerome walked Leach to put the go-ahead run on base. That brought up the dangerous Raymond and prompted a visit to the mound by Stetson, who said he wanted Jerome to “re-focus.” Apparently he did: Raymond hit the first pitch right to Brouillard at short, and he tossed to Payea at second to force Leach and nail down the win.
Burkett wished one more play had gone his team’s way, but said the Commodores battled. 
“We settled in and towards the end started swinging the bat  better, being a little more selective with the pitches,” he said.
Burkett said he continues to see progress.
“We’re going to be there. We’re going to be ready for the playoffs,” he said.
Jerome said the win meant a little more because not only is VUHS a rival, but he knows his counterparts on the other team.
“I got a couple friends on the team, on Vergennes, so it feels nice,” said Jerome, who has a 4-1 pitching record.
Despite the Eagles’ losses against the Metro Conference iron so far, Jerome believes Mount Abe can finish strong.
“We’ve had a tough time hanging in with the bigger schools. But I think we’re going to get on a roll here, come back and win a couple more,” he said.
Stetson said if the Eagles don’t start winning, it wouldn’t be for lack of effort.
 “It’s a good group of kids. They’re working hard, and we’re trying to get better at doing all the little things right, and we’re making some progress,” Stetson said. “And they’re fun to be around, and I truly believe they enjoy being around each other and coming out to practice and play. We haven’t quite got the win total we want, but I think everything else is going in the right direction.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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