BRISTOL — In what Mount Abraham Union High School coach Jeff Stetson called “a clean, well-played high school baseball game,” his Eagles on Tuesday edged visiting Vergennes Union High School, 3-1.
The win pushed the defending Metro Conference champion Eagles’ record to 8-2, the best in Division II, despite losing their top pitcher and the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters from 2009.
Senior co-captain Shawn Marcelle, who had two hits on Tuesday and has tossed two shutouts this spring, said the Eagles have stepped into their new roles and gotten timely hits.
“We knew we could get it done. It was just matter of getting everything together, putting the right pieces in,” Marcelle said. “And Coach Stets is doing a good job.”
Senior co-captain Sam Lieberman, who made solid plays on Tuesday at third base to end two VUHS threats, said the Eagles’ spring break trip to Florida helped them to sharpen their play and bond as a unit — and to start the season well.
“When we went down to Florida we struggled a lot and got a lot of the kinks out, and we just went on a roll,” Lieberman said. “We had timely hitting and great defense, and it seemed like the luck was going our way. I think we really came together.”
VUHS, meanwhile, dropped to a misleading 4-6. They returned to the tough Metro Conference after several years in the Capital Division, and they have held their own, picking up wins over Division I competitors North Country, BFA and Missisquoi to stand at No. 7 in D-II.
Coach George Ringer said with the exception of a recent off day vs. Champlain Valley, his pitching and defense has been sharp. Not counting the CVU game, VUHS has allowed just 14 runs in five May contests. Pitchers Logan Williams, Tuesday’s hard-luck loser, and Hans Westenfeld have been sharp.
“I’m pleased, overall. We’ve been playing good defense,” Ringer said.
But VUHS has struggled to score runs. On Tuesday, the Commodores left nine runners on base. Ringer said he believes his team is capable of breaking out on offense, however.
“We just don’t seem to be putting up much for runs. We could just be in a trough right now, hopefully,” he said. “Hitting is contagious. We need somebody to step up and hit the ball around a little bit.”
VUHS mounted Tuesday’s first threat, when Charlie Stapleford walked and winning pitcher Eagle Mickey O’Connor hit Jon Kauffman with a pitch with two outs in the second. But O’Connor got the next batter to roll out slowly to Lieberman, whose strong throw ended the threat.
The Eagles scored twice in the bottom of the second. With one out, Steve Patterson cleared the left-center fence with a towering homer. Ethan Heffernan followed with a single up the middle and stole second, and O’Connor lined a single to right to score him, and it was 2-0.
In the third, VUHS shortstop Collin Curler reached on an infield hit, and third baseman Dylan Bresnick followed with a one-out single up the middle. Eagle shortstop Adam Pouliot forced Bresnick at second on a Williams grounder, and O’Connor induced another grounder to Lieberman to end the threat.
The only VUHS miscue led to the third Eagle run in the third. Marcelle singled and stole second, and he scored on a two-out throwing error.
The rest of the way, Williams allowed only a Patterson single and a hit-batter. In all, Williams surrendered six hits and a walk, two earned runs, and struck out one. The VUHS defense was sound, notably Curler, who picked up four assists and made a diving catch.
O’Connor allowed six hits and two walks, striking out one and hitting two batters. The Commodores were a little unlucky, drilling three line drives right at fielders. Patterson and Heffernan also made fine catches of foul balls.
VUHS finally scored in the sixth. With one out, Westenfeld singled, stole second and scored when DH Andrew Lucia pulled a single between first and second base.
The Commodores threatened again in the seventh when Curler legged out another infield hit and Bresnick walked, but O’Connor induced a fly ball and a pop-up to seal the win.
Stetson praised both the Commodores and his pitcher, who has now thrown a shutout and a one-run game this spring.
“Vergennes has got a nice team,” Stetson said. “The big difference was those couple runs early, and then Mickey O’Connor pitched tremendous for us. That’s two outings in a row where he’s pitched really well, which helps us a lot.”
The Eagles are happy to have, in fairness, probably surpassed expectations with their 8-2 record. Lieberman said they don’t plan to change the approach that has worked so far.
“I think we can do the best we can and work hard in practice like we are,” he said, “and keep after it and not worry about the championship or the playoffs right now, just the next pitch, just like Stets says.”
Andy Kirkaldy is at email@example.com.