Andy Kirkaldy: Teams warming up with approach of postseason

Spring has finally arrived, and many of the local high school teams are making up for earlier games lost to rain, snow and soaked fields with packed schedules. Middlebury girls’ lacrosse, for example, had eight games stuffed in between May 10 and 25, while their Vergennes-Mount Abraham girls’ lax peers had 10 games crammed in between May 8 and 24.
Well, that’s one way to tune up for the playoffs, which will begin next week after the athletes catch their breath over the Memorial Day weekend.
There are signs the busier slates helped some teams. The Eagle and Commodore baseball teams both wrapped up last week by taking three out of four, each also improving to 5-9 entering this week after slow starts. Both Mount Abe Coach Jeff Stetson and Vergennes Coach Dwight Burkett said they wanted their teams to keep plugging and trying to get better; looks like that might have happened.
It wasn’t so long ago that Stetson’s Eagles surprised teams in Division II when it entered the playoffs with a similar record, so who knows if they or the Commodores in D-III can make a run this year?
But the D-II challenge for the Eagles might be greater this year. Otter Valley, the defending champion, is 10-3 and was undefeated in the division this year heading into a tough game at 9-5 Fair Haven on Wednesday. And Lamoille, Harwood, Lake Region and Enosburg will bring solid résumés into the tournament, too.
But I won’t bet against the Otters repeating — they have good starting pitching in Josh Beayon and Payson Williams (both threw no-hitters last week), a deep batting order, sound defense, and a knack for winning close games.
One more baseball note: How about those Tigers? They entered this week with eight wins, pretty good for a program that had a recent high-water mark of five victories for a full season and went through a winless season not too long ago. A D-I title is probably not realistic, but the first-round matchup could be reasonable, and then who knows?
As for softball the Tigers had a bit of a hiccup on this past Saturday, but their 7-6 record entering the week was fine considering they had to adjust to losing several starters as well as Gatorade Player of the Year Payton Buxton.
Meanwhile the biggest softball story in these parts is what looks like an inevitable D-II postseason showdown between defending champion Mount Abraham and Fair Haven — in what would be a rematch of the 2017 semifinal in which the Eagles prevailed, 8-5, at home.
Both the Eagles and Slaters entered the final week of play at 12-2 and were running 1-2, respectively, in the standings. The two other teams in the top four, Lake Region and Enosburg, don’t seem to have the quality of schedule to suggest they can compete with the top two, and there’s a big drop-off to No. 5 Springfield.
No predictions here. And no disrespect to the Eagles’ perfectly good hurlers, but the Slaters will have an edge on the mound with ace Olivia Bowen. But the Eagle lineup is deep with hitters, and they can also pick it. OK, one prediction: The D-II final down in Poultney should be a lot of fun barring a true surprise along the way.
In lacrosse, three close losses in a row put the Tiger boys under the gun and at 7-6 heading into a must-win game vs. St. Albans on Tuesday. A win there and a little help elsewhere could move MUHS out of the No. 8 slot and a probable quarterfinal matchup with undefeated Champlain Valley — and give the Tigers a fighting chance to make a postseason run.
The OV boys’ and Commodore girls’ lax teams have had good moments, and the Commodores, with young talent and more on the way, could be heard from in D-II in the coming years.
But there is one more defending spring champion to talk about, the MUHS girls’ lax team stood in fourth place in D-I on Monday with three losses after an unbeaten 2017. One of those losses came to Mount Anthony amid a flurry of what observers said were unwarranted yellow cards. The other two both came to first-place CVU in competitive games.
The schedule favors the Tigers moving up into third place and getting a rematch on the road with MAU. The Tigers are just behind Brattleboro and should pass the Colonels if they win their final two games this week, also assuming MAU defeats Brattleboro on the Patriots’ home field. That would mean a semifinal rematch between MUHS and the Patriots and, if the Tigers’ prevail, in all likelihood a third shot at CVU.
A tough road, for sure, but the Tigers have scorers and a championship-caliber defense.

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