Mount Abe baseball reaches D-II final
SOUTH DUXBURY — The No. 8 Mount Abraham Union High School baseball team claimed another higher-seeded Division II tournament victim on Monday, blanking host No. 5 Harwood, 3-0, in a semifinal.
The 8-11 Eagles will play another upset-minded squad in the D-II final: No. 6 Bellows Falls.
While the Eagles have been dispatching No. 1 Lamoille (14-4) and the No. 5 Highlanders (12-6), the 11-8 Terriers were ousting No. 3 Lake Region (14-4) and No. 2 U-32 (13-5).
At the same time the Eagles were backing junior pitcher George Bailey’s three-hit pitching with rock-solid defense, the Terriers eliminated the Raiders, 9-3.
The Eagles and Terriers will play at the University of Vermont’s Centennial Field on Saturday, June 11, at 4 p.m. The Terriers will be making their second straight appearance after falling in the 2015 D-II final to Lamoille, 2-1. Bellows Falls will be seeking its first D-II title since 1999 and second-ever. The Eagles will be hunting for their fifth crown since 2001 and first since 2010.
And it could be their most improbable. On May 3, the Eagles lost at home to Middlebury, 20-4, an error-plagued setback that dropped them to 0-6 and prompted some soul searching.
Senior third baseman Caleb Bonvouloir, who made several outstanding plays on Monday and lined a clutch two-out, two-run single, said the Eagles made a necessary attitude adjustment after that game. Since then, Mount Abe finished the regular season 5-5 in the Metro Conference, mostly against D-I competition, and then went on their tournament run.
One of the things the Eagles did was document their goals, Bonvouloir said.
“Halfway through the season we did a posting,” he said. “And one of the things we wrote down was that we were going to show that we could play ball. And we did.”
Part of the process after the Middlebury loss, said Coach Jeff Stetson, included a team gathering.
“We had a big long meeting, and we redefined what we wanted to be known as as a team. And the bottom line, these guys said, was they wanted to be known as a team that turned it around,” Stetson said. “I guess they can make that claim pretty well now.”
On Monday, both teams mounted threats in the first inning. Eagle right fielder Dustin Whitcomb reached on an error, and Bailey singled with two out. But Harwood starter Sawyer Ladensack (five innings, four hits, two walks, no earned runs) struck out the side.
Then Bailey ran into trouble in the only inning the Eagles allowed two baserunners. With two outs, Eli Rivers popped the ball up into short left center. Among a momentary lapse in communication, the sun and the wind, it dropped in for a hit. River stole second, and a passed ball — the Eagles’ only error — put Rivers on third. Bailey then walked cleanup hitter Matt Greene. But he got Ladensack to foul out to first baseman Coleman Russell to end the inning.
Stetson said the Eagles have been able to put miscues like those behind them since the slow start.
“We really attacked the mental side of trying to stay positive. If we make mistakes, we make mistakes, but keep working for the next pitch, the next play,” Stetson said. “And all we can control is what we can do next. And these guys have bought into it.”
The Eagles made all the plays the rest of the way, including several fine efforts. In the second inning, second baseman Wyatt Gendreau picked a tough short hop on a hard line drive.
In the third, Bonvouloir charged a slow roller and made a strong throw and then snagged a line drive on one hop that exploded at his feet before firing to first for the out, and in the sixth he dove full out to his left to stop a one-hop liner from going into left field, jumped to his feet and tossed to Russell for the out.
In the fifth, Harwood’s Jake O’Brien laced a drive off the fence in right center, and center fielder Keion Correll’s perfect throw to shortstop Chris Wood nailed O’Brien at second base. In the sixth, catcher Anthony Robideau pounced on leadoff hitter Ryan Semprebon’s bunt and just nipped him at first base.
“Today we were awesome in the field,” Stetson said.
Meanwhile, Bailey allowed only Ladensack’s two-out double in the seventh as well as the two earlier singles. He walked two and struck out six, threw just 83 pitches, and kept the Highlanders off-balance.
“George was awesome on the mound today,” Stetson said. “He hit his spots, and he had just enough of a curveball and off-speed (stuff) so they couldn’t sit on his heat.”
The Eagle runs came in the fourth. Gendreau walked with two outs, and Zach Hines reached on an error. They moved up to second and third on a wild pitch, bringing up Bonvouloir. Ladensack had been mowing down Eagles with his curve ball, but didn’t fool Bonvouloir with one that he lined to left field to score both runners. Bonvouloir moved to second on the throw home, and he scored when Russell drilled a single up the middle.
Soon afterward the Eagles were celebrating a trip to Centennial that seemed unlikely a month ago.
“I can’t describe how happy I am for these kids, because when we were 0-6, they could have folded up their tents, and they didn’t,” Stetson said. “They picked each other up. Everybody worked a little bit harder than they had been, and it’s so nice when that pays off for them.”
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