Tiger softball coasts past Burlington, 9-0

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School softball team scored in every inning and got one-hit pitching from senior ace Payton Buxton on Wednesday to defeat visiting Burlington, 9-0, and apparently nail down the No. 5 seed for the Division I tournament.
The 12-4 Tigers lost a chance for a top-four seed and two home games the day before when BFA-St. Albans scored four unearned runs in the sixth inning to rally past them, 4-1, but Coach Polly Rheaume has faith that the Tigers can make a postseason run as long as they play to their potential.
“We’re ready for the playoffs,” Rheaume said. “We have a strong team. As long as we don’t have the mental errors that we’ve had in the past that have cost us and keep our heads together, we’ll do great. There isn’t any team that can’t be beat, and we all have been at some time. And we have Payton on the mound. We just have to get our bats going and back her up.”
The two teams behind MUHS in the standings, South Burlington and North Country, carried 11-4 records into the weekend, but could only hope to tie the Tigers in quality points, and the Tigers beat both this spring and would win the tiebreaker with either or both.
But MUHS is unlikely to catch No. 4 Essex (12-3), which had just a winnable game vs. Burlington on its schedule and looms as the Tigers’ probable quarterfinal foe this weekend. Possible first-round opponents at home on either Tuesday or Wednesday depending on results and weather include Rutland, U-32 and St. Johnsbury. The Vermont Principals’ Association was set to release playoff pairings on Monday morning.
Vs. Burlington on Thursday, Buxton set the tone by striking out the side in the first and second innings. She finished with 15 strikeouts and topped the 600-strikeout milestone for her career, finishing the game with 613. She walked none and the only BHS hit came from shortstop Aubrey Nichols, who drilled a double to lead off the second inning.
Meanwhile the Tigers scored either one or two runs every inning. In the first inning, Buxton walked and came home on catcher Abby LaRock’s triple, and LaRock scored on a passed ball. In the second, leftfielder Bridget Audet doubled to lead off, moved to third on first baseman Ella Beattie’s ground out, and scored on centerfielder Gwen Stafford’s ground out.
In the third Buxton and third baseman Darcy Staats led off with singles, and they scored on grounders hit by LaRock and second baseman Taylor Sylvester. The Tigers pushed the lead to 6-0 in the fourth. Stafford and shortstop Lily Smith singled and were on first and third, and Stafford scored on the front end of a two-out double steal when Smith slid in safely at second on a close play.
In the fifth the Tigers loaded the bases on singles by Carly Larocque and Ashley Sunderland and an Ally Larocque fielder’s choice in which the Seahorses unsuccessfully tried to force Carly Larocque at third. Seahorse pitcher Sydney Holt-Barker then walked Kyra Roberts to make it 7-0.
The Tigers tacked on their final two runs in the sixth. Staats walked, LaRock singled, and Carly Larocque grounded a double down the left-field line to score both runners. In all, the Tigers poked 11 hits and drew four walks from Holt-Barker, while striking out just once. They committed two infield errors, one in the fifth and one in the seventh, as the Seahorses had just three baserunners and remained stuck on one win.  
Rheaume was pleased to watch Buxton enjoy a strong outing in her last regular season home game, to see the Tigers play well, and to be able to empty her bench.
“It’s nice to see her do so well in her last game here, technically, it was her senior game,” Rheaume said. “And we got everybody in, so it was a really good game.”
   TIGER SOPHOMORE TAYLOR Sylvester forces a dropped ball and slides safely into second base during last week’s game against Burlington.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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