Mount Abe baseball topples Vergennes

BRISTOL — On a Thursday afternoon that saw flurries of snow, clutch hits from both high school baseball teams, and — understandably given the 35-degree weather — plenty of miscues, host Mount Abraham outlasted rival Vergennes, 15-14.
After Mount Abe bolted on top, 7-0, the Commodores came charging back. The lead changed hands four times in the final two innings before a bases-loaded, two-out miscue capped Mount Abe’s two-run rally in the bottom of the seventh and allowed the Eagles to win their season opener.
Eagle Coach Jeff Stetson credited both teams for their efforts in the nearly three-hour chill-fest. 
“I’m happy we came out on top. I’m happy we kept battling all day on a really tough day to play. Vergennes battled, too. There wasn’t a lot of great play out there today defensively, but it’s tough playing in the snow and the cold and the wind,” Stetson said. “But we managed to put the bat on the ball enough when we had to, and snuck out a couple runs and got a couple breaks. And we’re happy to get our first game in and get a win.”
Coach Dwight Burkett’s Commodores dropped to 0-3, but he was happy with the their effort and grit on Thursday, especially considering the Commodores were missing several regulars, mostly due to school trips, and started three freshmen.
“The bats are starting to come alive a little bit. They kept their chins up,” Burkett said. “We’re in a bit of a bind right now. We’ve got two more JV players up because of different issues we have. But they showed a lot of character out there today.”
Early on it looked like the Eagles could win via the five-inning, 10-run rule. They scored three in the first off VUHS starter Ethan Bissonette on walks to Eli Rickner and Jared Forand, an error on which Nolan Whitcomb earned an RBI, and infield hits by Dustin Whitcomb and Wyatt Thompson that could have been outs with a more experienced infield.
The Commodores did show signs of things to come by loading the bases against Eagle starter Dustin Whitcomb with one out in the second, but he worked out of the jam, and the Eagles went back to work with four more runs in the bottom of the inning.
Parker Hines singled, Jacob Hoag reached on an error and Rickner walked to load the bases. A wild pitch scored a run, and Dustin Whitcomb singled in a pair, moving up on an outfield error on the play before scoring on another wild pitch to make it 7-0.
VUHS got on the board with two runs in the third. Thomas Richards singled to lead off, and Jeffrey Stearns forced him at second with a ground ball. Stearns moved up on an errant pickoff and a wild pitch and trotted home on the first of Casey Kimball’s three hits. Kimball moved to second when Robbie Bicknell walked, and Bissonette dropped a single into right field to score Kimball.
Bissonette then worked a scoreless inning, and the Commodores — and Kimball — announced they were going to make a game of it in the top of the fourth. Jarret Muzzy reached on an error and Richards blooped a single before Stearns — who reached base five times and scored four runs — walked.
Kimball then absolutely destroyed a high Whitcomb offering to straightaway center for a three-run triple. If the fence had been up it would have easily been a grand slam. Bicknell followed with an RBI ground-out, and it was 7-6.
EAGLE DUSTIN WHITCOMB takes a cut at a pitch as Commodore catcher Jeffery Stearns backs him up in Bristol Thursday. Whitcomb dinged four hits resulting in four runs and two RBIs; Stearns helped his team with a double and four runs. Mount Abe won, 15-14.
Independent photo/John S. McCright
The Eagles got a run back in the bottom of the fourth, when Rickner singled and Forand drilled a triple to right center, and they made it 9-6 in the fifth, when Jon Jennings singled in Thompson, who singled and stole second.
In between, sophomore Eben Clifford made his Eagle pitching debut and worked around two VUHS hits to toss a scoreless fifth. But he was less fortunate in the sixth, when the first four batters reached and eventually scored. Clifford hit Stearns and walked Kimball, and Bicknell beat out an infield hit to load the bases before Samir Kadric walked to force in a run and make it 9-7.
Stetson called Jacob Hoag to the mound, and he got one out. But Commodore Jake Russell doubled home two runs to tie the game, a wild pitch gave VUHS the lead, and Muzzy lined a sacrifice fly to center to make it 11-9, VUHS, before Hoag worked out of further trouble.
The Eagles answered in their half of the sixth with four unearned runs on two singles, a walk and three errors. Whitcomb singled to lead off, and Forand reached on an error that put the runners on second and third. Whitcomb singled both home to tie the game at 11-11, and Thompson walked. Both scored on a pair of two-out infield errors to make it 13-11. Bissonette, who deserved better, left after nine hits and four walks in 5.2 innings, striking out six. Kimball pitched the last out of the inning.
Back came the Commodores in the seventh. Stearns drilled a double to lead off, and he scored when Kimball dropped a soft, opposite-field double down the left-field line, a play that led Stetson to call Nolan Whitcomb, a sophomore, to the mound to make his varsity pitching debut.
Kimball hustled around to tie the game when the Eagles misplayed Bicknell’s bunt, and then Kadric pounded a towering double to center field to score Bicknell and give VUHS back the lead at 14-13. It also might have cleared the fence had Mount Abe officials been able to put it up given better weather this spring. Nolan Whitcomb then struck out the side to end the threat.
He earned the win when the Eagles rallied for the win in their half of the inning. Dustin Whitcomb and Forand capped their big games with leadoff hits, and Nolan Whitcomb walked to load the bases. Kimball struck out the next two hitters, but tossed a wild pitch to allow Dustin Whitcomb to race home with the tying run. He then walked Jennings to load the bases, bringing up Hines.
The VUHS infield could not handle his bouncer, and Forand crossed the plate to be surrounded by happy Eagles.
Burkett said the Commodore defense would improve when his team is whole again.
“We’ve got to get some players back and some people in the right places,” he said.
Stetson, again, praised both his team and the Commodores for their play in conditions that he hopes will not be duplicated at the May 7 rematch at VUHS.
“We got up, 7-0, and it didn’t faze them a bit,” he said. “Hopefully it’s not snowing when we’re out at Dwight’s place.”

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