MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School baseball team gave new coach Charlie Messenger a win in his first game this past Wednesday, 10-5 over visiting Fair Haven, but came up short in its next two games.
On Thursday, visiting South Burlington struck early in an 11-1 win, and on Saturday, host St. Johnsbury snapped a 2-2 tie with a pair of unearned runs in the fifth inning to win, 4-2.
Messenger was happy with a strong pitching effort from Tyler Provencher and a balanced hitting attack in the opener, but less so with a few miscues in the second and third games.
“I’m not going to let them get away with the mental errors,” Messenger said. “We’re going to get back to work.”
He does believe his offense will bounce back. The Tigers are not striking out often, but are not making solid contact.
“We were not hitting the ball well at all,” Messenger said.
The Tigers also had a solid pitching performance from Josiah Benoit on Saturday, and Messenger said the junior has earned a promotion.
“I told him he’s moving into my No. 2 slot,” he said.
Surprises have almost been the norm in early Metro Conference results, and Messenger believes his team can bounce back.
“It’s who’s on the mound, and how you play that day,” he said.
On Wednesday, Provencher started and earned the pitching win, allowing four runs, just one earned, in five innings of work. Provencher surrendered four hits and struck out two. Benoit pitched the final two innings, allowing one more run.
The Tigers took a 6-0 lead before the Slaters got on the board, scoring one in the first inning, four in the second and one in the third. In the first, Tyler Delancey walked, stole second and scored on Taylor Patterson’s two-out single.
In the four-run second, Jonas Hastings walked; Willis Varno, Sam Messenger and Isaac Rooney singled; Delancey walked; and Provencher drove in a run with a grounder. The Tigers made it 6-0 in the third with help from walks to Varno and Rooney and a wild pitch.
The Slaters picked up two unearned runs in the fourth, but the Tigers answered immediately with two runs in the bottom of the inning on singles by Provencher, Patterson and Varno.
Fair Haven managed two more runs in the fifth, and the Tigers got their final two scores in the sixth on a Provencher single, a hit-batsman, a Josh Stearns sacrifice fly and a Hastings single.
On Thursday, however, it was the visiting team that bolted to an early lead off starter Aaron Smith. South Burlington got its first two baserunners on with a wind-blown double and an infield hit, and they moved up a fielder’s choice grounder. The first run scored on Max Smith’s sacrifice fly, and three more came home on a Paul Valgoi triple and Collin Hanson double.
SBHS made it 6-0 in the third on a hit batter, an error and Valgoi’s two-run double. The Tigers got one run back in the bottom of the inning off starter Connor Bradley. Delancey singled with two out, stole second and reached third when the throw sailed into center field. Smith then drove in Delancey when the Rebels couldn’t track down his pop-up in the stiff wind. Bradley finished his day allowing three hits and striking out five.
The Rebels then batted around and took advantage of four Tiger errors to score five times in the fourth and put the game out of reach. Bradley, Smith, Valgoi and Gabe Simpatico contributed singles to the rally, during which Messenger lifted Aaron Smith for Josiah Benoit. Benoit allowed Simpatico’s RBI single, but then retired three straight hitters and tossed a scoreless fifth. He struck out two and allowed two hits and a walk.
Simpatico tossed two scoreless innings of relief for the Rebels, and with a 10-run deficit after five innings and a third game in four days looming, Messenger opted to allow the game to end on the mercy rule.
On Saturday, Benoit went six innings, allowing one earned run on four hits and two hit batters; he struck out five and walked none. “Josh pitched a great game,” Messenger said.
The Hilltoppers took a 1-0 lead in the first on a hit-batsman, a single and a sacrifice fly. The Tigers knotted the score in the second when Varno doubled with two out and scored on an error. St. J added an unearned run in the fourth, and the Tigers tied the score in the top of the fifth. With two out, Sam Messenger singled, Rooney walked, and Delancey singled home Messenger.
But in the bottom of the fifth, two errors put two runners on, and they scored on two of the four Hilltopper hits.
“We’ve got to tighten up in general,” Messenger said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.