Legion baseball aims to step up into playoffs

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County American Legion Baseball Coach Mike Estey is at least cautiously optimistic the local nine can take a step forward this season back into the Northern Division playoffs.
AC returns 14 of the 18 players from the group that won seven games a year ago, including virtually its entire pitching staff. And although a couple of longtime mainstays have moved on, Estey said newcomers should play major roles this summer. 
“We want to get back to the tournament, and that means finishing in the top four in the North, and that’s our goal,” Estey said. “I think we can be in the running. I think we need to win a dozen games, and we won seven last year, and we lost some close ones.”
On the mound, Mount Abraham Union High School’s Adam Whitcomb and Vergennes’ Hunter O’Connor return as the team’s co-aces, with Eagle George Bailey slotted in right behind them. Middlebury’s Wyatt Cameron, Eagle Dustin Whitcomb and Commodore Will Wormer round out the rotation, Estey said, while Otter Valley’s Greg Whitney and Middlebury’s Bruce Wright could also toe the rubber. All are AC veterans. 
“I see those two probably at the top, and then George and Dustin and Wyatt and Will. We’re going to try and get some innings out of Bruce Wright. (Whitney) threw some innings last year, and he could again this year, too,” Estey said. “I think our pitching staff could be all right.”
But they have to throw strikes, one of the two things Estey called keys for AC’s season. 
“We threw a lot of balls and walked a lot of people last year. Then anything that happened hit-wise or error-wise just snowballed,” Estey said. 
The other key will be AC’s athletes taking care of what he called “the small stuff” on offense. 
“Just executing, being able to move people up when we need to, and getting the bunts down,” he said. “And then hopefully we get some people hot.” 
If players start putting the bat on the ball it will help make Estey’s personnel decisions easier — there are multiple candidates for virtually every position. 
“Basically, whoever can hit for us is going to be in the lineup,” he said.
At catcher, Tiger Brian Foote and Commodores Devon Kimball and Jeffrey Stearns, a newcomer, are all available, although Estey said he might use Kimball in the outfield, also. 
Wright, O’Connor and possibly Whitney could play first base, while Whitney, Tiger Liam Smith and Eagle newcomer Wyatt Gendreau are all second-base candidates.
Cameron; his former Tiger teammate Oakley Gordon, another AC newcomer; and Eagle Chris Wood are all available at shortstop, although Estey might prefer Wood’s speed in the outfield. Dustin Whitcomb could also fill in there, but might see time at third base, where Bailey, Stearns, Tiger newcomer Nick Kaufmann, or even Wood, Cameron and Gordon could be in the mix.
“We’re deep in places,” Estey said. 
In the outfield, Kimball, Wormer, Eagle Keion Correll, and Tiger Pat Messenger, could patrol left; O’Connor, Wood, Messenger or Correll could line up in center; and either Whitcomb, Whitney, Messenger or Bailey could play in right field.
Estey foresees improved defense this summer. 
“Defensively we could be real good. I hope our middle infield can be real good for us,” he said. “In the outfield I think we can go get it.”
AC opened at Essex on Wednesday and was set to play on the road on Franklin on Friday and will visit Colchester on Tuesday before finally hosting a game on Thursday, vs. Colchester at 5:30 p.m. at the Middlebury College diamond, the team’s home field. AC is then scheduled to play two on Saturday at S.D. Ireland in Hinesburg before hosting Montpelier on Sunday at 11 a.m.
Estey was hoping to set the tone early on for a competitive summer. 
“I think the opportunity is there for us if we can be aggressive on the mound and at the plate, play solid defense and get some chemistry going,” he said. “I think we can be good.” 
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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