Mount Abe Little League all-stars claw way into tourney final

SHELBURNE — The Mount Abraham 9- and 10-year-old Little League all-star team came up short of a district title in June and July competition, but won six games and reached the championship game for what team officials believe is the first time ever.
Although the athletes competed under the Mount Abe banner, the team also featured three players from Middlebury Area Little League towns, two from Cornwall and one from Salisbury.
Team manager Tommie Thompson said all-stars from a total of eight towns quickly bonded, something that made a difference as the tournament progressed.
“The boys all came together,” Thompson said.
Counting the last game of the round-robin round and three losers-bracket contests in the double-elimination phase Mount Abe had to win to reach the final, Thompson noted the team prevailed in four consecutive must-win games.
“It was the four straight elimination games that they won that impressed me the greatest with this team, and most from being behind at some point,” he said. “They just would not give up.”
The team members were Lucas Allen, Starksboro; Norman Benoit, Monkton; Chance Denecker, Bristol; Ian Funke, Monkton;  Joe Graziadei, Lincoln; Adam Mansfield, Starksboro; Dalton Rheaume, Salisbury; Caleb Russell, Starksboro; Ethan Thompson, Lincoln; Jack Wallace, Cornwall; Bradley Wells, Starksboro; and Tim Whitney Jr., Cornwall.
Michael Graziadei and Scott Mansfield helped Thompson coach the squad.
Thompson said expectations were modest heading into a tournament played at the Shelburne recreation park, but the team was confident.
“I guess I knew we had a pretty good team,” he said. “We had a couple good pitchers, a good catcher and a few good hitters.”
Then the team opened on June 27 by surprising Colchester, which usually fields a strong team, 6-1. Mansfield started on the mound and earned the win, and he and Rheaume combined for 15 strikeouts. Thompson and Whitney led the attack with two hits each.
Next, on July 1 Mount Abe outlasted Richmond, 5-4, in seven innings. Joe Graziadei picked up the win, and he, Mansfield, and Thompson each had two hits, including a Thompson home run. Mansfield, Whitney and Rheaume hit consecutive singles to plate the winning run in the seventh.
On July 3 came Mount Abe’s only setback in round robin play, a 12-2 loss to South Burlington. That loss meant Mount Abe had to defeat Charlotte to make it into the double-elimination district tournament.
In that game, on July 7, Charlotte took a 3-2 lead in the top of the third. But Mansfield blanked Charlotte the rest of the way, and Mount Abe scored two in the third and added an insurance run in the fifth. Thompson paced the offense with an RBI triple and an RBI single.
On July 10, the double elimination tourney did not start well: Burlington rallied for four runs in the top of the six to erase a 2-1 Mount Abe lead and win, 5-2.
That result meant one more loss and the Mount Abe all-stars would go home, and next up on July 12 was the South Burlington team that had thumped them by 10 runs nine days before. Then South Burlington scored two in the first off Graziadei. But that was all, and Mount Abe scored one run in the second and two runs in each of the third and fifth innings to win, 5-2. Mansfield, who batted better than .500 for the team, paced the attack with three hits.
Two days later, Mount Abe thumped Shelburne, 12-3, as Mansfield earned the pitching win and slugged a three-run homer. Thompson, who also hit higher than .500, added three hits and scored three times.
By now, Mount Abe’s pitching was wearing thin. Denecker took to the mound for the first time against Burlington on July 16, and his defense made three errors in the first inning as Burlington scored four unearned runs. But again Mount Abe rallied, this time with seven unanswered runs, two in the first, one in the second and four in the fourth in a 7-4 win. Graziadei and Benoit led the attack with two hits apiece.
On this past Saturday, Williston ousted Mount Abe, 12-1, as Thompson said his team just ran out of gas against a top opponent that was undefeated in the tournament. Mansfield had Mount Abe’s only two hits.
“They were in a whole other league than any other team we played,” he said.
But the loss did not dampen Thompson’s enthusiasm for the all-stars’ performance. No 9-10 Mount Abe all-star team had ever won more than three games in the tournament, he said, and in the two previous summers he coached the team had won a total of one game.
“It just kept going,” he said. “It was all a surreal ride.”
Thompson is also excited about the partnership that the Mount Abe Little League has forged with the Middlebury Area Little League. Officials obtained a waiver to allow the leagues to field a joint all-star squad because Middlebury has not had an all-star team in recent years, and he believes what he called a “small-town alliance” can be fun for the kids and create teams that will hold their own against the Chittenden County all-stars.
“This larger geographical alliance is something that all involved would like to continue,” he said. “I feel the success of this year’s team can contribute to a new tradition of Little League baseball in Addison County that can be competitive with the long-standing dominant Burlington and suburban programs.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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