By ANDY KIRKALDY
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School baseball team took a 4-0, first-inning lead against visiting Colchester on Tuesday, but eventually needed a two-out, bases-empty rally in the seventh to pull out a 5-4 win.
Interim head coach Randy Barnes saw the victory, which moved the Tigers to 3-5 after an 0-4 start, as a step forward. Barnes, who agreed to fill in this spring while long-time Coach Doc Seubert took an indefinite leave for family medical reasons, was happy to see the Tigers make enough key plays to prevail.
“As a team we’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “This was the first close game we’ve been in ... and it was nice to see these guys pull through and not get overly nervous.”
Early on, it didn’t look like a close game. MUHS senior starting and winning pitcher Sean Harrison (seven innings, five hits, eight strikeouts, two walks, two earned runs) set the 3-5 Lakers down quickly, and the Tigers jumped on CHS starter Jake Sanderson.
Leadoff hitter and center fielder Ryan Foley singled, stole second and third, and scored when the throw to third sailed wide. Shortstop Seth Delorme singled and stole second, and scored on Harrison’s single. Freshman catcher Tyler Malloy walked, and first baseman Troy Audet drove in the runners with a booming double to left center.
Sanderson settled down after that. The only threat the Tigers managed was in the fourth, when freshman second baseman Marshall Hastings doubled with one out and reached third on senior right fielder Dane Liljestrand’s bunt before Sanderson worked his way out of trouble.
In the third inning, the Lakers put runners on second and third with one out on an error, passed ball, wild pitch, passed ball and hit batsman. But Malloy picked the runner off third, and Harrison got the next batter to fly out to Foley.
The first two Laker batters in the fourth reached on a walk and Harrison’s error on a bunt. But the next batter was called out for interfering with Malloy’s throw on an attempted steal, and Harrison fanned the next two hitters.
Errors allowed CHS to score three times in the fifth. The first two hitters reached on infield miscues, and Brian McGary laced a double down the left-field line, the first Laker hit, to make it 4-2. Spencer Dandurand then singled McGary home.
Nick Barton bunted for a hit, but third baseman Jimmy Danyow picked Dandurand off second base when he took to wide a turn around the bag. Barton then tried to tie the game single-handedly, stealing second and third and trying to steal home, but was called out at the plate to end the inning.
Colchester tied the game in the sixth on singles by Andrew Cootware and Ryan Crowley and Zach Dandurand’s squeeze bunt. After the Tigers failed to score off Spencer Dandurand in relief of Sanderson in the sixth, Harrison set the stage for the winning rally in the seventh by getting the top of the Laker in order in the top of the inning.
Dandurand retired the first two hitters, but Delorme poked an opposite-field single to give the Tigers hope. Harrison then drilled a grounder at the Laker second baseman, who found it too hot to handle, as did the right fielder. The second bobble allowed Delorme to scoot easily to third to bring up Malloy.
Malloy had struck out twice, and fell behind 1-2 on a fastball on the outside corner and a wicked curve. Dandurand went back to the curve, but the freshman stayed on the ball and hit a grounder to the left of the second baseman. He couldn’t handle it cleanly, and Delorme scored.
Barnes spoke to Malloy before the at-bat and told him not to worry about the outcome.
“I pulled him aside there during that timeout and said, ‘Hey, just relax. What mostly happens in this case is the batter gets out. If it happens, you’re like 75 percent of the people on earth that play baseball ... You’re a good hitter. Put the ball in play, and something good will happen,’” Barnes said. “And fortunately for us, it did.”
Barnes also praised Harrison, who improved to 3-0 this spring.
“Sean pitched phenomenally,” he said. “I think he’s throwing the ball a little harder this year, and I think his curve ball ... he’s staying on top ... He did a great job keeping his composure.”
In all, Barnes likes what he has seen in the past couple weeks.
“We’re going in the right direction for a young team. We have fewer errors, mental and physical errors. We’re starting to hit the ball a little more,” Barnes said. “I think we’re getting better.”