CASTLETON — At noon on Tuesday at the Castleton State College baseball diamond, everything appeared to be in place for the Addison County team at the Vermont American Legion state championship tournament.
Late that morning, left fielder Dylan Raymond’s two-run, ninth-inning single gave AC a 7-5 win over Colchester that ran the county nine’s record in the tournament to 4-0 and eliminated the defending champion Cannons.
That victory meant AC, which opened the tournament with three straight wins between July 24 and 26 (see related story), just needed to defeat Northern Division rival Essex once in two tries on Tuesday afternoon to win its second state title and first since 2008.
But instead Essex, the Northern Division regular season champion, rode strong pitching by righthanders Davis Mikell and Pat Brodeur to 5-3 and 3-2 wins over AC and claimed its second title in three years and eighth overall.
AC, second in the Northern Division this summer, had scored 32 runs in four previous tournament games before the team ran into the hard-throwing Mikell and the crafty Brodeur on Tuesday afternoon.
AC Coach Mike Estey said credit had to go to the Essex hurlers.
“This morning we came in and hit well against Colchester and their ace, (Sean) Callahan,” Estey said. “Then it seemed to disappear the next two games against Essex. Hats off to them. They threw well.”
If Estey has any regrets, they might be that a few hard-hit balls against Brodeur didn’t drop in.
“It was a good weekend for us. We went 4-2 and put ourselves in the best possible position we could. Our bats went away the last two games just enough. I think if we could have got to the second guy early, one or two hits early, it could have made a big difference for us,” he said.
AC entered the tournament having lost three of five, and then got hot, with first baseman Wade Steele, Raymond, pitcher/shortstop Sawyer Kamman and pitcher/infielder Devin Hayes doing damage at the plate. Pitcher/centerfielder Aaron Smith earned two pitching wins, Hayes and Kamman picked up a win apiece, and Hayes earned a save.
Estey said the team’s chemistry has been good in recent weeks, but performance probably mattered more in Castleton.
“We started coming together as a team a little bit. But we started to hit,” Estey said. “And we pitched well. We defended well the first four games, extremely well, really solid. It was fun.”
Even if the team would have liked more, Estey also noted AC came away with hardware: Steele, Smith, Kamman and Raymond were named to the all-tournament team, and all the players received runner-up plaques to cap a strong summer.
“It was a super season for us,” he said. “I’m real proud of the club.”
AC, 7-5, OVER COLCHESTER
Tuesday morning’s game vs. Colchester completed a game begun on Sunday that was suspended in the seventh inning with the score 5-5.
Smith walked to start the winning rally in the ninth, and Kamman reached on an error that put runners on first and third. After Hayes was intentionally walked, Raymond followed with his go-ahead two-run single.
SAWYER KAMMAN BEATS the tag and slides safely to home during Addison County's playoff game against Colchester on Sunday. Photo by Alan Kamman.
Smith earned the win with three scoreless innings of work, all on Tuesday, in relief of Josiah Benoit. Smith allowed two hits, hit a batter and struck out five. Benoit allowed five runs on nine hits in six innings, all on Sunday. Callahan took the loss with a 7.2-inning outing that spanned both days. He allowed three runs, two earned, on six hits and two walks, striking out 11.
AC got one run in the first on a Hayes single, a walk to Steele and an RBI single by Raymond. AC scored four more in the second, with the big blows struck by Kamman, a three-run double, and Steele, an RBI single.
In the double elimination tournament, Essex had already lost once so a second defeat would make AC the champion; AC was undefeated so it would have to lose twice to be knocked out.
In the first potential championship game, Essex scored once in the top of the first. Shortstop and tournament MVP Josh Baez reached on an infield hit against AC starter Hayes, and Mikell laced an RBI triple.
AC answered with two runs off Mikell in the bottom of the inning, as the big Essex righty struggled with his control. Mikell hit Kamman, and Kamman reached third when Hayes singled. Kamman scored on a Steele squeeze bunt, with Steele reaching on an error. Mikell walked Joe Hounchell and Benoit to force in a run, but then ended the bases-loaded threat by picking off a runner.
A fielding miscue opened the door for three Essex runs in the second. With two out, Essex second baseman Eli Baez hit a lazy pop-up out in front of the plate that AC allowed to drop for a hit. Deagan Poland, Joey Robertson and Josh Baez followed with RBI doubles to make it 4-2.
Mikell took charge from there: He struck out 14 and allowed just three hits and two more walks. Hayes also settled down, allowing 12 hits — five after the second inning — and one intentional walk while striking out seven.
AC cut the lead to 4-3 in the fifth. Right fielder Devon Kimball walked and catcher Chris Leach — playing with a broken nose suffered in a collision going after a foul pop-up — bunted for a hit. Kamman’s one-out single brought Kimball home.
Essex added an unearned run in the eighth. First baseman Frank Puleo singled, moved to third on an Eli Baez double, and scored when the throw to third bounced away.
ESSEX, 3-2, IN FINAL
In the decisive game, Essex scored all of its runs in the third. Puleo led off with an infield hit, and Eli Baez reached on an infield error. Singles by Poland and Robertson plated two runs, and a Josh Baez sacrifice fly capped the rally.
That was all AC starter Kamman would allow. Kamman went the nine-inning distance, allowing eight hits, striking out three and walking none in a strong effort that easily could have earned a win.
But Brodeur, the No. 4 or 5 Essex pitcher, kept AC off balance by mixing his pitches. He allowed seven hits, walked one and fanned four. Meanwhile, Essex played errorless ball and made a couple fine plays, notably Poland’s over-the-shoulder catch of Hounchell’s long second-inning drive to center, one of several AC hard-hit balls that went unrewarded.
AC made it 3-1 in the seventh. Raymond walked, moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on a Hounchell single, and scored on a Benoit hit. But the rally fizzled on a failed sacrifice bunt, a strikeout and a groundout.
In the eighth, Steele hit a towering two-out homer to left in his final Legion at-bat, and it was a one-run game. Then Mikell came on to throw a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out the final two batters for the save that stopped AC’s tournament run short of its goal.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]