Sports

Eagle baseball makes finals date

SHORTSTOP EVAN CORRIGAN makes contact during the Mount Abe baseball team’s 5-0 semifinal win over Harwood on Monday. Corrigan walked and scored in the Eagles’ four-run first inning and was flawless in the field. Independent photo/Steve James

BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham baseball team is going to the Division II championship contest for the first time since winning the last of six titles under former Coach Jeff Stetson in 2016. 

Coach Jason Barnard’s 13-6 Eagles prevailed in a June 7 quarterfinal at No. 4 Lyndon and then at home on Monday to blank No. 7 Harwood, 5-0, behind freshman Cam Castillo’s complete-game five-hitter. 

The Eagles will face a familiar foe set for 6 p.m. on Saturday at UVM’s Centennial Field. No. 8 seed Middlebury also won its quarterfinal matchup, knocking off host No. 4 Hartford (12-6) on Tuesday evening in extra innings. The Eagles took on the Tigers twice during the regular season. MUHS won in Middlebury on May 16, 10-0, but the Eagles staved off a Tiger rally at Mount Abe on May 28, 10-9. 

SEMIFINAL

Early in Monday’s semifinal, it looked like Harwood (11-8) might be ready to ground the Eagles. In the first inning, leadoff hitter Matthew Flaschetti ripped a double to right center, and Logan Huffman followed with a line single and stole second to put runners on second and third with none out. But Castillo, who struck out nine and walked none, responded by striking out the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters in the Highlander order to end the threat.

The Eagles then touched up Harwood starter Nicholas Casey for four runs, one earned, in their half of the inning. Brody Barnard led off by reaching second base on a throwing error, and Casey walked Evan Corrigan. They moved up to second and third on an Abe Ready groundout, and Castillo walked to load the bases, with courtesy runner Connor Peck taking his place on first.

Barnard scored on a wild pitch, and after Casey got the second out on a popup, a walk to Stefan Johnson reloaded the bases. Clark Crary’s infield hit plated Corrigan, and Tyler White’s line single brought in Peck and Johnson with two more runs to cap the rally. 

EAGLE FRESHMAN PITCHER Cam Castillo not only tossed a four-hit shutout to key the Eagle baseball team’s D-II semifinal victory on Monday, he also drilled this RBI double in the second inning to make it 5-0, the final score.
Independent photo/Steve James

Tjaden Johansen hit a leadoff single for Harwood in the second, but Crary, the freshman catcher, threw him out trying to steal, and Castillo faced only three hitters. In the bottom of the inning, Barnard singled and scored easily on a booming Castillo double to make it 5-0. 

That was it for the scoring. The Eagles left seven runners on base over their next four at bats. In the third, Johnson singled and White walked, but Casey stranded them. In the fifth, Tanner Castillo walked and Johnson doubled to put runners on second and third, but Castillo got caught in a rundown on a grounder to third. White’s infield hit reloaded the bases, but the Eagles couldn’t get down a squeeze bunt, and Casey got the final two outs. 

In the sixth, Ready doubled, but the Harwood right fielder made a sensational diving catch to rob Cam Castillo of extra bases and save a run. 

Harwood never got going against Castillo. He hit a batter in the third inning who eventually reached third base on a wild pitch and passed ball, but the Eagle hurler got a strikeout and a fly ball to leave him there. 

In the fourth, Casey greeted Castillo with a single, but he struck out the next three hitters. A runner reached in the sixth on Castillo’s own throwing error, Mount Abe’s only fielding miscue of the game. But the hard-throwing righty, who also mixed in curves effectively, retired the final five Highlanders in order, finishing the game in style by striking out the side in the seventh to clinch the Eagles’ trip to Centennial Field.

After the game, Castillo said he felt he wasn’t throwing his hardest, but the breaking ball was working.

“I think my fastball was a little down in velo today, but I made up for it with the curveball,” he said.

EAGLE COURTESY RUNNER Connor Peck is happy to be the first of two baserunners to score on Tyler White’s single, which capped the Mount Abe baseball team’s four-run, first-inning rally in a 5-0 D-II semifinal win on Monday.
Independent photo/Steve James

The flawless work on defense by his team gave him confidence.

“I feel great pitching with those guys behind me. They really make me feel like I can let ’em put the ball in play, and I’m going to get an out either way,” Castillo said. “It’s really a good team to play for.”

Castillo explained what made playing for the Eagles fun. 

“We have a lot of good guys on the team. There’s a lot of spirit, a lot of camaraderie,” he said. “We have a really good team dynamic, and it really helps everyone perform at their highest level.”

Barnard discussed the team’s chemistry, which he said developed through the season. The group is mixed-age, with two senior starters, co-captains Tanner Castillo and Jamison Huizenga; five juniors whose roles vary; two sophomores, Corrigan and Barnard, who both start; and six freshmen, four of whom play major roles: Cam Castillo, Crary, Johnson and Ready. 

The Eagles this spring started out 1-3 against the toughest part of their schedule, and then went on a 9-3 run to close the regular season. 

Part of the improvement is also due to the positivity Castillo brought up, according to Barnard, something he said in particular gelled after a team meeting following the Eagles’ last loss, a 9-1 setback at D-II top seed Missisquoi on May 24.

Since then, the Eagles have won six straight. 

The team’s pitching had already been solid, and Barnard said the team’s fielding has tightened up, and its bats have come alive up and down the lineup. 

MOUNT ABE SECOND baseman Brody Barnard bends backward and applies the tag to catch a Harwood baserunner stealing after taking catcher Clark Crary’s throw during the Eagle baseball team’s D-II semifinal victory on Monday.
Independent photo/Steve James

What was said at the meeting to help the team strengthen its bonds?

To start with, Barnard said, they are “a group of good guys” who like each other, wanted to win and were ready to listen. 

“All of us, the coaches and myself, stressed that if you guys play together, you can beat anybody,” Barnard said. “And before that we weren’t playing together. We had individuals playing for themselves … And all of a sudden, everyone put all that stuff aside, and it really clicked. And these guys, they’re an awesome group.”

Of course, there’s one more game to go. Castillo talked about the right mindset heading into the final. 

“I feel like we are really confident. We can’t overthink,” he said. “We can’t make ourselves think we’re better than we are. But I think we’re confident. And if we keep playing the way we are, we should be able to get it done.”

QUARTERFINAL

On June 7, the Eagles edged host No. 3 Lyndon, 6-5, in a quarterfinal. The Vikings finished their season at 12-5. Coach Barnard called it a “complete team win,” and credited the gutty pitching of Johnson, who tossed 5.3 innings and gave up seven hits and four runs, three earned. He fanned nine and walked five.

Barnard turned to Corrigan to close out the game with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth. Corrigan got the final out, but the Vikings scored one run and loaded the bases again in the seventh. Then Corrigan whiffed the final batter to end the game and get the save. 

“Both Stefan and Evan came up huge,” Barnard said.

The Eagles erupted for four runs in the second inning to take the lead. DH Gavin Conrad walked, and Huizenga bunted him to second. Barnard singled home Conrad, followed by a Corrigan RBI single to score Barnard.  After a Ready single, Cam Castillo ripped a two-run double that chased Lyndon starter Wyatt Mason.

The Vikings fought back to tie the score at 4-4, but the Eagles rallied with two runs in the top of the seventh off losing pitcher Ethan Lussier.  Ready led off with a single and motored around the bases to score on another Cam Castillo double. After Tanner Castillo bunted pinch runner Riley Coffey to third base, Crary plated what proved to be the game-winning run with a single to right.

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