Sports

Tiger baseball overwhelms Otter Valley

TIGER SENIOR CARTER Paquette takes a healthy rip at an OV offering during Tuesday’s first-round D-II playoff game at MUHS. Paquette had two hits in the Tiger win. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — On paper Tuesday’s Division II first-round playoff game between the host No. 8 seed Middlebury Union High School baseball team and No. 9 Otter Valley looked like a close game. 

Both teams entered with 8-8 records, and if anything their results against common foes — Mount Abraham and Fair Haven — might have given an edge to the Otters. And OV was starting its senior ace, Isaiah Wood, while the Tigers were countering with freshman Gabe Velez, untested in the postseason. 

On the other hand, the Tigers entered the game winners of eight of 10 after an 0-6 start. And now the Tigers believed in themselves, according to Coach Tim Paquette and Co-Captain Carter Paquette, who when not on the field calls his coach Dad.

That belief showed on Tuesday, when the Tigers broke the game open in the second inning with seven runs on the way to an 11-1, six-inning victory. 

“We’ve got a great group of leaders here. Everybody keeps each other’s heads up,” Carter Paquette said. “The confidence is high right now.”

Coach Paquette said the team took to heart a conversation when it was still struggling. 

“I just told the boys when we were 1-7, we were in our division, we’ve got to play fundamental baseball and get ahead and hit the ball, and stay up and stay positive,” Coach Paquette said. “And we went on a roll, six games in a row.”

OV Coach Mike Howe acknowledged that, although the Otters made a few good plays in the field, his team did not play up to their capabilities on Tuesday.

“We knew we had to have a good day, but it just wasn’t our day. We made too many mistakes, and didn’t make enough plays,” Howe said. “That’s the game of baseball. That’s the game of life. It’s too bad. I thought we matched up really well against them. But when you give a good team, a team that can swing the bats the way they can, a lot of extra outs, they’re going to take advantage of that.”

OV went quietly on three ground balls in the first, and ran into trouble in the bottom of the inning. Cole Warren led off for the Tigers with the first of his three hits and moved to second on a wild pitch before scoring on a Carter Paquette single. 

TIGER FRESHMAN GABE Velez allowed just four hits and one run in six innings as MUHS defeated visiting Otter Valley on Tuesday in a first-round D-II playoff game.
Independent photo/Steve James

The Otters threatened in the second on a Wood single and a one-out walk, but Velez got the next two batters on a strikeout and popup. 

Then the OV wheels came off in the bottom of the inning, when Wood struggled with his control. He walked Tucker Morter and Velez, and wild pitches moved them to second and third. Ethan Sweet’s sacrifice fly scored one run, and then Wood hit Riley Disorda and Warren with pitches to load the bases.

Alex Sperry and Paquette singled in runs, and two errors, a double steal that allowed Paquette to touch home plate, and a wild pitch capped the rally before Wood induced a grounder to end the inning with OV down, 8-0.

OV then scored its run in the top of the third. After Paquette, the catcher, got the first out with a diving catch of a foul ball, Velez hit Jacob Worrell with a pitch. The Tigers then botched a potential double-play ball, and Warrell scooted around to third. From there he scored on Jackson Howe’s fly ball to center. 

The Tigers added another run in the fourth to make it 9-1. Tim Whitney reached on an infield hit and rounded the bases when Ryan Brouillard dropped a triple down the right-field line that bounced off a diving OV outfielder. 

Noel Pearsons singled to lead off the OV fifth, but the Otters couldn’t advance him.

In the Tiger fifth Sweet was hit by a pitch, but was erased on a Riley Disorda fielder’s choice grounder. Cole Warren singled, and Disorda scored on a throwing error on a double steal. 

MUHS SENIOR ETHAN Sweet has an understandably dramatic reaction to being painfully hit by a pitch on the top of his left foot during Tuesday’s first-round home D-II playoff game.
Independent photo/Steve James

OV mounted a mild threat in the sixth. Velez walked Howe, and Wood followed with OV’s fourth and final hit. But two popups and a grounder ended the uprising, and the Tigers tallied the mercy run in the bottom of the inning. Paquette walked, stole second, and raced home on Whitney’s single. 

Coach Howe’s team graduates four seniors, three of whom saw action on Tuesday: Brayden Chandler, Luciano Falco, Nathaniel Gaissert and Wood.

 “We’re a very young team. Oftentimes this season I started two freshmen and three sophomores. So the message for the guys coming back is let’s put in the work, because we were in almost every game we played,” Howe said. “If our guys come back and put in the effort, I think we can be a really solid ballclub for the next couple years.”

PLAYERS IN THE MUHS dugout celebrate when freshman Ryan Brouillard slides in safely at third base after plunking an RBI triple down the right-field line during Tuesday’s first-round D-II playoff game at MUHS.
Independent photo/Steve James

On Tuesday, Velez struck out four and kept the Otters off balance.

“He’s got a nice fastball. The two-seamer’s got good movement. And he can drop a curveball in there,” Carter Paquette said. “That’s what he had today, and it worked.”

Both Paquettes are looking forward to the rest of the tournament and to Friday’s quarterfinal at Missisquoi (13-3), with which the Tigers split two games this spring. 

 “If we play fundamental baseball, be aggressive at the plate and swing at strikes, put the ball in play and make them play it, it’s anybody’s ballgame,” said Coach Paquette.

Catcher Paquette was upbeat after Tuesday’s win. 

“If we keep our heads up and keep playing like we have the past few games, better watch out,” he said. “The Tigers are coming.”

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