ADDISON COUNTY — The Addison County American Legion baseball team won four times in its final five regular season games to earn first place in the Northern Division. The local nine will head into the state tournament as not only the defending champion, but also the co-favorite with Southern Division champion Bennington.
That double-elimination tournament begins Friday morning at the Barre Recreation Center and will continue through Tuesday. Unlike past years, the four top teams from both the Northern and Southern divisions will compete in one eight-team tournament, rather than holding separate four-team tournaments with the winners meeting the following weekend to determine the Vermont champion.
AC (14-4 league, 17-6 overall) finished just ahead of both second-place Orleans-Essex-Caledonia and third-place Essex (both 13-5, with OEC winning a tie breaker), and fourth-place Colchester (12-6).
Bennington led the way in the South at 15-3, followed by Rutland at 14-4. Bellows Falls is in at 12-6 and will be the No. 4 seed. Fair Haven and Chester were set to play a make-up doubleheader on either Tuesday or Wednesday to determine the fourth Southern team. The winner will have a 12-6 record, and both teams own tiebreakers over Bellows Falls so one will be the No. 3 Southern seed.
In Friday’s first rounds, the No. 1 seeds from each division will face the No. 4 seeds from the other division, and the No. 2 seeds will meet the opposing No. 3 seeds. AC will face Bellows Falls at 9 a.m. on Friday.
AC coach Mike Estey will ask ace Greg Lutton to take the mound in the opener, probably followed by Corey Haight and Ben Orvis in games two and three. If the local nine keeps winning, AC will play only one game a day. Also available to pitch will be Kyle Kayhart, Jackson Downey-Teachout, Shawn Marcelle, Cam Curler and Mickey O’Connor.
Estey likes his team’s chances to repeat as Vermont champion.
“I feel good about this weekend. The North is a little stronger, I think,” he said.
As always, Estey said starting pitching will be critical. After weather disrupted AC’s rotation, he said the starters are lined up and ready to go.
“We’re kind of on track now going into this weekend,” he said.
AC did struggle early on in the field, but more recently has tightened up defensively, a trend Estey said must also continue.
Finally, AC had started to mash the ball, scoring at least seven runs in each of its last eight games and reaching double figures in six of them. Estey said AC’s hitters have worked the count well until they get pitches they can drive.
“We’ve been hitting the ball real well,” he said, adding, “They’re pretty disciplined. They take a lot of pitches.”
AC clinched its regular-season league title by sweeping a home doubleheader at Mount Abraham Union High School on Sunday vs. Burlington, 10-1 and 12-2. Those two wins ran AC’s record to 14-3 and winning streak to 11 games. On Monday, visiting Essex knocked off AC, 10-7. In other recent play, AC defeated host Waterbury on Saturday, 14-9, and visiting Franklin County on July 15, 16-6.
On July 15 at Mount Abe, Franklin County scored five runs off Marcelle in the second to take a 5-0 lead, but AC scored nine times in the third and added seven runs in the fourth to take command. Marcelle allowed one run in the fifth, but the game still ended early because AC held a 10-run lead.
Chad Estey keyed the big third inning with a three-run homer and a three-run double. Curler and Lutton added RBI doubles, and Downey-Teachout singled home a run.
Estey also tripled home a pair of runs in the seven-run fourth, and Dean Butler and Haight picked up RBIs. Kayhart also doubled twice in the game.
On Saturday AC out-slugged Waterbury by launching five homers in a game played at the Stowe recreation field. Kayhart drilled a two-run shot in the first before AC added three runs in the third on RBI singles by Kayhart and Sean Harrison and Lutton’s RBI grounder.
In the fifth, AC went deep three times. Estey and Butler went back-to-back to open the inning, and Harrison pounded a two-run shot later in the inning. RBI singles by Logan Williams and Estey plated three runs in the seventh and made it 12-6, and Lutton’s two-run blast in the eighth made it 14-6 and helped AC survive a late Waterbury rally.
Haight allowed four runs and struck out seven in four innings of work, and O’Connor picked up the win in 1.1 innings of relief. Marcelle, Harrison and Curler also threw, with Curler tossing a perfect ninth.
AC clinched the regular season crown by dominating visiting Burlington on Sunday. In the 10-1 opening win, Lutton allowed one earned run in seven innings on five hits and one walk, striking out six. Orvis ripped a two-run triple and Haight stroked a two-run double and an RBI single. Lutton, Kayhart and Harrison also picked up RBIs.
In the second game Orvis allowed one run on two hits and three walks in five-plus innings, striking out eight. Kayhart then allowed one run in the final frame of the six-inning game.
Harrison, Kayhart and Butler each cleared the fence with two-run homers, and Estey popped a solo shot. Haight tripled and contributed an RBI single, Marcelle had an RBI single and Downey-Teachout also knocked in a run.
In Monday’s make-up game that did not affect the standings, visiting Essex reached Harrison for seven runs in the fifth to take a 10-7 win and snap AC’s winning streak. Downey-Teachout started and allowed two runs, one earned, in four innings, and O’Connor and Curler mopped up.
Lutton and Marcelle each singled home two runs, Williams had a pair of hits, and AC scored three runs on passed balls.