VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School baseball team on Tuesday followed the formula that allowed the Commodores to win the 2012 Division I title: pitching, defense and timely hitting.
The result was the program’s first win, 2-1, that anyone at VUHS on a sunny spring afternoon could recall over Metro Conference and Division I power Essex.
“I think it’s the first time in my life I’ve beaten Essex,” said winning pitcher Devin Hayes, who tossed a complete game and limited the Hornets to four hits while striking out five and walking three. “It feels good. First time ever.”
Hayes provided the pitching part of the formula, while his teammates provided the defense with errorless ball. Many plays were routine, as Hayes had the Hornets getting under the ball — 10 outs were recorded on fly balls or pop-ups, including when sophomore rightfielder Chris Leach doubled a runner off second base in the fourth.
The closest thing to a miscue came in the second, when senior centerfielder Michael Danyow bobbled one fly ball, but alertly forced a runner at second base to record the out.
“It worked out well today,” said VUHS coach George Ringer, whose team improved to 4-1. “We got a real good pitching performance from Devin … (And) solid defense, that’s our hallmark.”
And although the Commodores scored just twice on Tuesday, Ringer and Hayes both said they are swinging the bats better this spring. And the facts back them up: They have now scored 45 runs in five games.
“We are hitting the ball better,” Ringer said. “Tonight, (Essex had a) good little pitcher out there, I thought, and … in the end our No. 6 guy moved some guys around so our No. 7 guy could drive in what ended up to be the winning run … I’m happy that our offense is coming along, especially compared to the last couple years.”
The Commodores made the most of only three hits on Tuesday and took the lead in the first inning. Senior shortstop Nick Richer reached when the Hornets misplayed his sky-high pop-up, and he moved to second when senior catcher Charlie Stapleford reached on an infield error. With two outs, senior first baseman Wade Steele laced a single to deep left center, and Richer scored easily.
The Hornets, who fell to 3-2 with the setback, equalized by bunching two of their four hits in the third. Jonathan Palmer singled to lead off, and Hudson Seman bunted him to second. With two outs, Jeremy LeClair punched an RBI single up the middle to make it 1-1.
VUHS took the lead in the fourth. Hayes singled sharply between third and short to lead off, and Steele worked a walk off losing pitcher Luke Salerno to put two runners on with none out. Senior second baseman Justus Sturtevant bunted the runners up to second and third, and Leach lined out to right field to plate Hayes.
VUHS threatened again in the fifth when Danyow reached on an error to lead off, and senior third baseman Zach Ouellette bunted him to second. Richer singled to put runners on second and third, but Salerno worked out of trouble. Stapleford ripped a line drive out to center, but possibly not deep enough for Danyow to risk scoring, and Salerno whiffed Hayes to end the threat. Salerno fanned five and walked one.
Hayes allowed one baserunner in each of the final four innings, but bore down each time. He mixed in enough curves to keep the Hornets guessing, and his fastballs were particularly effective when he kept them down in the strike zone.
The biggest threat came in the sixth, when LeClair walked to lead off with the heart of the order coming up. But Hayes struck out No. 3 hitter Frank Puleo, got cleanup hitter Steve Jurkiewicz to pop out to Ouellette, and then retired Salerno on a dribbler in front of the plate on which Stapleford made the Commodores’ best defensive play of the game to throw Salerno out at first.
Hayes appreciated the defensive support.
“It was perfect. Usually I rely on my defense,” he said.
Hayes is part of a pitching staff that includes Stapleford, Danyow and Richer, and he believes that group, combined with the defense and improved hitting could mean another good postseason run.
“Hopefully we can have the same result as last year if we can keep hitting,” Hayes said. “We’re feeling very confident.”
Ringer said the group of athletes, several of whom have won both baseball and basketball titles, does not lack for belief in themselves.
“I’m confident in them, and they’re confident in themselves,” Ringer said. “We’ll see what happens. It’s still early, but if nothing else it’s going to be a fun year.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.