Commodore nine outlasts Mt. Abraham, 8-7

BRISTOL — At first it looked like the visiting Vergennes Union High School baseball team would romp over Mount Abraham on a cold and blustery Thursday afternoon — the first six Commodores to bat reached base and scored.
But by the time Mount Abe had the tying run on third base and the winning run at first with one out in the bottom of the seventh, it appeared the Eagles would walk off with the win.
Not so fast, said the Commodores.
Eagle Coach Jeff Stetson called for a suicide squeeze bunt; no surprise there. Baserunner Nolan Whitcomb took off for home from third, and batter Will Vichi squared to bunt at VUHS pitcher Jarret Muzzy’s offering.
COMMODORE FIRST BASEMAN Cooper O’Brien tries to tag Eagle senior Parker Hines, who was caught off base between third and home. Hines evades the tag, but is eventually called out.
Independent photo/Steve James
Muzzy threw high and Vichi got a piece of the pitch, but the ball popped up in the air, about 15 feet high, just behind home plate. Commodore catcher Jeff Stearns spun around and snared it. Stearns whirled again and Whitcomb had no chance to retreat to third — Stearns picked him off to preserve an 8-7 VUHS lead and end the game in sudden fashion.
VUHS Coach Dwight Burkett, whose team improved to 3-1, said he was reminded of the Eagles’ wild 15-14 walk-off win on the same field in even colder weather a year ago.
“When these two teams play, I’m telling you, it’s just always a whale of a game,” Burkett said. “You’re on the edge of your seat.”
BY EXECUTING A spectacular somersault, Mount Abe’s Silas Burgess evades the tag from Vergennes catcher Jeff Stearns to score. Nevertheless the Commodores won by one run on Thursday in Bristol.
Independent photo/Steve James
For the 0-2 Eagles it was the second tough loss in a row. They opened with a 6-4 setback two days before at 2018 Division I finalist Colchester after leaving the bases loaded late in the game, and in another inning failed to execute another squeeze bunt.
“It would have been nice to have gotten one of these (games). We had chances up in Colchester, which I think is going to be a contender,” Stetson said. “We have to execute.”
Muzzy improved to 2-0 with the complete-game pitching win, giving up one earned run as VUHS committed six errors. He allowed six hits, struck out four and walked one. Burkett said with the Commodores not set to play for a week he decided to leave Muzzy in for more than 100 pitches. 
MOUNT ABE SENIOR Parker Hines is chased down on the third base line during the third inning of Thursday’s game in Bristol. He was eventually called out at home.
Independent photo/Steve James
“I kept telling myself one more batter, one more batter, and he answered the call,” Burkett said.
The other starting pitcher was senior Ethan Bissonette, who transferred to Mount Abe after pitching well for VUHS in 2018. His former teammates greeted him rudely in the first inning.
Cooper O’Brien singled to lead off, and Bissonette hit Robbie Bicknell with a pitch. A Tucker Stearns single produced the first run, and two more scored when Jeff Stearns singled and the ball got past an outfielder. A walk to Barret Barrows and singles by Aiden Gardner and Jake Russell and Muzzy’s RBI grounder produced three more runs. The Eagles ended the inning on a tag-and-throw double play nicely turned by Eagle second baseman Jackson Gepfert.
The Commodores made it 7-0 in the third. Jeff Stearns doubled and eventually scored on a wild pitch.
VERGENNES CATCHER JEFF Stearns scores as the throw to home arrives too late for Mt Abe pitcher Ethan Bisonette to make the tag.
Independent photo/Steve James
Mount Abe got back in the game in the third with four unearned runs. Gepfert and Ryan Whitcomb reached on infield miscues, and then both scored on a throwing error on a Silas Burgess single. Eben Clifford reached on an infield hit, and Muzzy hit Parker Hines with a pitch to load the bases. Burgess and Hines scored on a Nolan Whitcomb sacrifice fly and a Colby Lathrop single to make it 7-4.
The inning ended with a disputed play. Hines got caught in a rundown off third base and was called out at home. The Eagles argued the ball was dropped on the tag, while the Commodores maintained Hines wandered far from the baseline. The umps had the final word.
The teams traded runs in the fourth. Bicknell singled for VUHS and was erased on a Tucker Stearns fielder’s choice. An errant pickoff moved Stearns to third, and he came home on brother Jeff’s bloop single. For Mount Abe, Gepfert doubled, moved to third when Muzzy balked, and scored when Clifford legged out an infield hit.
Ryan Whitcomb pitched the final three innings for Mount Abe and shut down VUHS, fanning four and allowing one hit.
In the fifth the Eagles — and the VUHS defense — made things interesting. Two infield throwing errors and a stolen base put runners on second and third base with none out. Muzzy retired the next two batters, but Gepfert dropped a single into left field, and Nolan Whitcomb and Lathrop trotted home to make it 8-7.
And in the seventh Nolan Whitcomb walked and Wyatt Thompson reached on an infield hit before the Eagles’ hopes died in Jeff Stearns’ glove behind home plate.
MT. ABE’S SILAS Burgess evades the tag from Vergennes catcher Jeff Stearns to score with a spectacular somersault move.
Independent photo/Steve James
Stetson said he was encouraged by the Eagles’ effort to fight back, but that a little more focus will be needed.
“I’ve got to give the guys a little bit of credit. We were down 6-0 before we got an out, I think, and we ended up having a chance to squeeze in the tying run in the bottom of the seventh,” Stetson said. “It shows a lot about their will to battle all game long. That’s a positive. But we need to execute and come ready to play from the get-go.”
Burkett acknowledged his team’s miscues, but said they “hung with it” to pick up the win. As well as being pleased with his team’s record early on, he is also confident the Commodores will improve as the season progresses.
“We’ve got stuff to work on, but you’ve always got stuff to work on. The good news is they’ve got a good, blue-collar attitude towards it, and they’re willing to work on it,” he said. “Everybody listens to what they need to do to get better, and I’ve very optimistic at this point.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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