VERGENNES — It’s been a long time since the Vergennes Union High School softball team has been able to enjoy being in first place — the late 1990s, when the Commodores won the Metro Conference championship.
But after Tuesday’s 8-3 win over visiting Burlington, the Commodores can make that claim again: At 4-0, with three straight wins over Division I Metro teams, VUHS sits on top of the D-III standings, just ahead of Windsor (5-1).
For sure, tougher tests lie ahead against the Metro iron — BFA-St. Albans, Missisquoi and, this Thursday, at Essex.
But the Commodores have come a long way from the program that routinely won a game or two each year throughout most of the past decade.
Centerfielder Tabby Danyow — who on Tuesday doubled, drove in two runs and threw out two Seahorses at home — said a major reason for the turnaround is that many Commodores have dedicated themselves to the sport.
“We had a lot of girls who played in the summer, and we had a winter league team so we could continue developing our skills,” said Danyow. “And our pitchers, I know, have been pitching on Saturday and the weekends and have their own pitching coach. And that really helps us a lot. And it just seems to be coming together this year, which is nice.”
A year ago, when the Commodores won five times, they lost a number of close games. This year, they have already won two games by one run and another by two runs. On Tuesday, they worked out of bases-loaded jams in the fifth and sixth innings and broke the game open with three runs in the sixth.
Coach Mike Sullivan said the Commodores are gaining belief in themselves.
“It’s a combination of a bunch of things. We’re playing a little better defense. Our pitching is a little more calm, a little more mature out there. They’re handling the situations a little better. I think sometimes it just takes that first win in a close game to really help build confidence,” Sullivan said. “Obviously, a timely hit here and there is helpful, too.”
On Tuesday, defensive plays and clutch pitching helped snuff several Burlington rallies. In the first, junior catcher Caitlin Chaput threw out a runner trying to reach third on a pitch in the dirt, and sophomore pitcher Emilee Trudo recorded one of her six strikeouts to end a threat. Trudo earned the win with five innings of work; she walked five and allowed four singles.
VUHS took the lead in the bottom of the first. Junior first baseman Jen Morley and Chaput both walked and scored when sophomore DH Dani Brown drilled a towering shot off the fence in right center.
Trudo again wiggled out of a jam in the second: With runners on second and third and none out, she struck out one batter and retired the next on a grounder to the mound.
VUHS made it 3-0 in the third. Sophomore right fielder Phoebe Plank walked, stole second, and scored when the Seahorses made a throwing error on senior second baseman Megan Paquin’s infield hit.
In the third, sophomore shortstop Taylor Paquette turned a nice double play to help Trudo work around two walks.
Paquette made it 4-0 leading off the bottom of the fourth by lofting a home run to left field into a stiff wind. VUHS added another run that inning when Plank walked, moved up on a Paquin bunt, and scored on Danyow’s bloop double.
Burlington scored in the fifth, and could have had more. Lauren Jarvis, Kayla Plankey and leadoff hitter Mallory Cross opened the inning with singles, and Jarvis tried to score from second base on Cross’s hit to center. But Danyow cut her down at the plate for the first out. Trudo walked the next batter and uncorked a wild pitch to score the run, but settled down to whiff the next two hitters and keep the lead 5-1.
Paquette pitched the final two innings and ran into trouble in the sixth. After an error put the leadoff runner on, two singles loaded the bases with one out. Paquette struck out the next batter, but Olivia Maher drilled a single up the middle to score one run. Nikki Raub, however, made the mistake of trying to score from second on a ball hit to Danyow, and Chaput again applied the tag at the plate, this time to end the threat.
VUHS put the game out of reach in the bottom of the inning. Plank led off with a single, and senior left fielder Sierra Lane reached on an error. They moved up on a passed ball, and Plank scored when Danyow fouled out to the catcher on a play that drew three defenders, but left home plate uncovered.
Morley walked and stole second to put runners on second and third, and both scored when senior third baseman Kate Mulliss drilled a single to left center.
The Seahorses added a run in the seventh off Paquette on singles by Evelyn Schaedel and Erica Lyon and a sacrifice fly by Ilona Maher. Paquette allowed four hits and one earned run in two innings, walking none and fanning three.
Olivia Maher took the loss for Burlington, allowing eight hits (two of them doubles by Chaput) and four walks while striking out eight.
Sullivan said the early-season wins are coming against the caliber of teams the Commodores are likely to see deep in the D-III playoffs.
“Those are all playoff-type games for us,” Sullivan said. “So once we learn how to win these games, we’re going to have a lot greater success.”
Danyow added one more secret to the team’s early surge — chemistry.
“Whenever the pitchers are down on themselves or whenever someone makes an error, we always make sure to say, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s OK. We’ve got your back,’” she said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.