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Legion nine comes up short

MIDDLEBURY — The season did not begin exactly the way the Addison County American Legion baseball team had hoped, as despite some flashes of promise AC opened with losses on Monday to South Burlington and Tuesday to Essex in games played on the Middlebury College field.
On Monday South Burlington rallied in the fifth and sixth innings to erase a 2-0 deficit and win, 7-2, and on Tuesday Essex pulled away late for an 8-3 victory.
AC got a strong outing from starting pitcher Adam Whitcomb on Monday and a respectable effort from starter Hunter O’Connor on Tuesday and overall played well defensively, although there were a couple breakdowns.
But Coach Mike Estey said he might ask the team to spend some more time in the batting cage after AC managed just four hits in each game. To an extent, he said the problem will solve itself once AC players who didn’t participate in high school or college baseball this spring knock off the rust.
But with three more home games coming up this week — defending Vermont playoff champion Franklin County visits Thursday at 5:30 p.m. and 2017 Northern Division playoff team OEC Kings comes to town for an 11 a.m. Saturday doubleheader — Estey said AC can’t wait to play with more urgency. He cited the final game of 2017, when AC defeated Essex to dash Essex’s playoff hopes.
“We’re going to hit. I just told them, though, we played a great game at the end of last year because we wanted to spoil Essex’s summer and knock them out of the tournament,” Estey said. “But right now we’ve got to play with that passion, that heart to get a win.”
On Tuesday maybe Essex was fired up about last summer’s finale and struck for two runs in the first inning off O’Connor. Rider Thornton tripled and scored when Nick Fitzgerald bounced a single over the drawn-in infield. O’Connor then momentarily lost his control, walking two and tossing a wild pitch to allow Fitzgerald to score.
Meanwhile Essex starter Maverick King was perfect through three innings, while Essex made it 4-0 in the third with two unearned runs. Thornton singled and O’Connor walked King, but then struck out two batters and induced a ground ball that should have ended the threat. But AC’s only error of the night allowed both runners, who had advanced on a double steal, to come home.
O’Connor tossed a scoreless fourth, ending his night because of a high pitch count with four strikeouts, three walks, four hits and two earned runs.
AC broke through for a run in the bottom of the inning. Chris Wood lined a single and Dustin Whitcomb reached on an infield hit. The Essex catcher tried to pick Wood off second; instead he stole third, and he scored when King threw the ball away trying to pick Whitcomb off first base.
Essex got that run back off reliever Nolan Whitcomb in the top of the fifth, when Fitzgerald tripled and scored on King’s RBI grounder.
Then AC rallied in the bottom of the inning. With one out, King hit Jeff Stearns and Keion Correll with pitches and walked Cooper O’Brien. Wood hit a shot back up the middle off King that bounced behind the mound for a hit. King then threw wildly to first, allowing both Stearns and O’Brien to score and make it 5-3. But on a Dustin Whitcomb grounder Essex third baseman George Goldsworthy threw out Correll at home on a close play, and King struck out the next batter to end the threat.
ADDISON COUNTY AMERICAN Legion pitcher Hunter O’Connor struck out four and gave up two earned runs in four innings of action against Essex Tuesday.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Estey said he thought Nolan Whitcomb threw well, but in the top of the sixth Essex used three hits, including RBI singles by Greg Cram and Fitzgerald, to score three runs and, with King throwing well, take an insurmountable five-run lead. King retired six of the final seven batters, striking out five of them and allowing only a Jeff Stearns single. Dustin Whitcomb threw a 1-2-3 seventh for AC.
In all, King struck out 11, allowed four hits, walked one batter and hit two. “He threw with some pop. He established that fastball early, and then got us with the curve ball,” Estey said.
On Monday vs. South Burlington AC took the lead with solo runs in the second and fourth innings. In the second Wyatt Cameron singled and reached second on the play, advanced on a Pat Messenger ground ball and scored on an O’Connor sacrifice fly. In the fourth Messenger reached on an error and came home when a ball O’Connor hit was misplayed.
SB tied the game in the fifth after Adam Whitcomb had apparently struck out the third batter to end the frame with AC still up, 2-0. But the pitch was dropped, and even though almost everyone, including the batter and Stearns, the catcher, initially thought the inning was over. The batter eventually took off for first base and two runs scored on throwing errors on the play. SB then roughed up Cameron and reliever Dustin Whitcomb for five runs in the sixth to snap the 2-2 tie.
Adam Whitcomb, who came out because he was on a pitch count for his first start, went 4.2 innings and did not allow an earned run on four hits and two walks while striking out two. Estey said infielders Dustin Whitcomb, Wood and Cameron all made good plays.
“Defensively we’re very good. I really like our infield,” Estey said. “We did some good stuff (Monday) night defensively.”
And he said the members of the team have positive attitudes.
“I think we’re good that way,” Estey said. “They come in and they work. In (batting practice) they’re working hard. We’re just looking for runs.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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