American Legion baseball team finding summer a challenge

MIDDLEBURY — Home cooking did not help the young Addison County American Legion team, which dropped its first three games at Middlebury College’s baseball diamond this past Thursday and Sunday to remain winless this summer.
AC came close on Thursday vs. South Burlington, rallying from a 5-1 deficit to force extra innings before falling, 7-5. In a Sunday doubleheader, however, visiting Essex steadily pulled away in both games for the sweep, 12-1 and 12-0.
Coach Mike Estey’s squad was hoping for a breakthrough on Wednesday night, when, weather permitting, Montpelier was scheduled to visit after the deadline for this edition.
In the meantime, Estey said the members of his team are remaining positive despite the fact that their hopes of preserving AC’s eight-year streak of making the Northern Division playoffs are on life support.
“We’re ecstatic about (their attitude),” Estey said. “They’re still together, and they’re still battling. They’re still good teammates, and that’s important.”
ADDISON COUNTY AMERICAN Legion second baseman Greg Whitney connects for a hit during last week’s game against South Burlington.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
But when AC runs against teams that blend top players from Metro Conference high school teams, the inexperience of this year’s squad shows, Estey said.
“We’ve got guys that are playing big innings and are on the mound big for us and have got to hit big for us that didn’t play hardly at all for us last year, and it’s an adjustment for them,” Estey said. “But we’re real pleased with the way we’re still going.”
On Thursday, July 2, AC took a 1-0 lead in the first. Devon Kimball and Aaron Smith started the inning with singles, and Chris Leach moved them up to second and third base with a sacrifice bunt. Sam Messenger, AC’s most consistent run producer so far this summer, singled Kimball home.
But South Burlington reached Smith, the complete game losing pitcher, for five runs in the third. After the first two batters reached on a walk and a single, Smith retired the next two hitters. But he had trouble getting the third out, and four straight hits, including a Noah Barton triple and an Austin Purinton double, plated the runs.
AC fought back to tie the game with two runs in the third and three in the fourth off starting SB pitcher Will Potter. In the third, Smith singled and Leach reached on an error. Messenger singled Smith home, and Greg Whitney doubled Leach in.
In the fourth, Pat Messenger singled and moved up on a Hunter O’Connor sacrifice. An error and RBI singles by Smith and Leach produced the runs.
But Patrick McMackin came in for SB and shut the door with four innings of scoreless relief, striking out six, although Estey said AC had its chances to produce the winning run before extra innings.
In the eighth, singles by SB’s Andrew Cunningham and Sam Premsager off Smith and two errors allowed the winning runs to score.
ESSEX, 12-1
AC struck first in game one on Sunday, scoring a run in the first inning. Smith singled, but was erased when Leach reached on a fielder’s choice. Sam Messenger later singled in Leach.
But that was all Essex starter James Gaboriault surrendered. He tossed a complete-game four-hitter, with A.J. Benway and Liam Smith adding the only other safeties for AC. Smith’s single came in his first-ever Legion at-bat.
O’Connor started and lost for AC, allowing seven earned runs in 5.1 innings, walking one and striking out seven. AC coaches said although the runs were earned, a couple outfield misplays that were technically not errors hurt O’Connor’s pitching line.
Will Wormer tossed the final 1.2 innings, allowing four hits and five runs, none earned as AC’s defense struggled.
Essex banged out six doubles. Riley Fitzgerald led the attack with four hits, and Deagan Poland and Joey Robertson poked three hits apiece.
ESSEX, 12-0
In the second game, Essex starter Maverick King tossed a two-hit shutout at AC, striking out five, walking three and hitting one batter.
No AC hitter reached second. Whitney and Sam Messenger poked the AC hits, and Whitney was the only AC batter to reach base twice — he was also hit by a pitch.
James Lincoln got the start for AC, and it went well initially. He retired the first five batters on ground balls, on five pitches. But with two outs in the second, Chris O’Brien and Brian Godard singled, and both scored on Liam Coulter’s booming double to right center. One throwing error later, and it was 3-0.
Essex made it 4-0 in the third on a Poland single, with a throwing error attached. He moved to third on a fly ball and scored on Sam Mikell’s sacrifice fly.
A Godard double, a walk and a Tanner Smith single to open the fourth scored a run and ended Lincoln’s outing, and Bryce Burrell went to the mound. Burrell tossed a strong two innings, allowing one inherited runner to score in the fourth on a sacrifice fly that made it 6-0, and then a scoreless fifth. He ended that inning by snatching a grounder up the middle and starting a crisp double play to erase the only runner he allowed, Jake Gaboriault, who singled.
But Essex took advantage of four AC errors and the six hits and three walks allowed by Whitney, who tossed the last two innings, to score six more runs and create the final score. All the runs were unearned.

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