ADDISON COUNTY — In a March 27 email before the start of this spring season, Otter Valley Union High School baseball coach Tim Mitchell asked, “Too early to feel the excitement in the air?”
Well, no, turns out it wasn’t.
Mitchell’s squad cruised to a 19-1 record on the way to the Division II title, thanks in part to the efforts of five Otter seniors and a sophomore standout who played well enough to make the 2013 Addison Independent Baseball All-Star Team, one of them 2013 Independent Player of the Year Brett Patterson. Those six helped the Otters roll through the playoffs, playing errorless ball while outscoring four foes by a collective total of 36-3 before a joyous welcome in their hometowns.
Coach George Ringer’s Vergennes team received that kind of greeting in 2012, but didn’t repeat in D-II this spring. Still, the 11-7 Commodores had a fine season, winning their final four regular season games to earn the No. 4 seed before seeing a quarterfinal rally come up just short. Two Commodore standouts earned Independent recognition.
Coach Jeff Stetson’s inexperienced Eagles won six times in the tough Metro Conference, and their only D-II losses of the spring were to VUHS. An Eagle junior who gave the team a big lift on the mound is honored here.
First-year coach Charlie Messenger’s Tigers won only three Metro games, but then nearly stunned eventual D-I champion Champlain Valley in a first-round playoff game. A hard-hitting senior outfielder made the Independent team.
Choices were made based on observation, statistics and consultation with the coaches. The selection process proved unusually difficult this year, and four honorable mention players are also named, all of whom also had outstanding seasons.
Congratulations to the following:
BRETT PATTERSON, OV SENIOR, PLAYER OF THE YEAR. Notes: Posted eye-popping pitching numbers: a 9-0 record with two saves and only four runs against him in 60.1 innings … Showed pinpoint control of all his pitches and allowed only 26 baserunners — 20 hits and just six walks — while striking out 69 … Tossed two complete-game one-hit shutouts in the postseason, including in the final vs. No. 1 seed Burr & Burton … Also batted .359 out of the No. 2 spot in the OV order and used his speed to score 23 runs, the second-highest total in the area, and drove in seven … Played solid defense at third base while not on the mound and turned a key double play early in OV’s semifinal win over Lamoille.
Mitchell’s Quotes: “He’s got everybody baffled (pitching) … He’s got a curveball that’s got everybody ducking and diving … He hits his spots. He can hit the spots all day long … How many people hit the ball solid against him? Not very many. Not many people timed him all year … I can’t say enough good things about him … He just gets it … He’s a great team player and has been a vital part of our success.”
DEVIN HAYES, VUHS SENIOR. Notes: Enjoyed another terrific season on the mound and at the plate … Compiled a 6-1 pitching mark with an earned-run average of 1.42, striking out 59 and walking 15 in 50 innings … Batted a loud .344 in Metro play with seven doubles and three triples, scoring 14 runs and driving in a local-best 18 runs … Versatile defender who helped the Commodores all over the infield when not pitching.
Ringer’s Quotes: “He has a good mindset … You can count on him to keep you in the game in a pressure situation … I’m really confident with him out there … He played well in the field wherever we needed him to shore us up … He’s probably our most vocal leader … All of a sudden Devin will be talking, and I’ll be agreeing with everything he has to say.”
RYAN KELLEY, OV SENIOR. Notes: Multi-talented athlete who took over and excelled at first base this spring, using his six-foot-three frame and soft hands to play fine defense … Led all local hitters with a batting average of .445 and knocked in 12 runs out of the leadoff spot … Sparked the OV attack with speed and aggressive baserunning and scored 20 runs.
Mitchell’s Quotes: “I couldn’t tell you how many (throws) got by him, but it wasn’t very many … His height is definitely an added advantage, and he works hard … He finds a way to get on … He’s fast … He gets the job done, and he does it the right way … Ryan has been solid at every position I’ve ever asked him to play ... Ryan is a natural athlete and a great representative for the team, school, and community.”
JIM WINSLOW, OV SENIOR. Notes: Strong-armed, surehanded shortstop and team leader who set the tone for the usually airtight OV defense and for the Otters’ hustling approach and work ethic … Switch-hitter who typically hit the ball hard, batted .370, drove in 10 runs and scored 22 out of the No. 3 spot in the order.
Mitchell’s Quotes: “He wants to perfect his game and be better than everyone else out there … The drive is there to make himself a better baseball player, and not just an individual baseball player, but a team baseball player, too … It doesn’t matter what side of the plate he’s on, he’s going to rip the ball … He is Charlie Hustle … Although we don’t have team captains, Jim is a great team leader and a pleasure to coach.”
THOMAS ROBERTS, OV SENIOR. Notes: Excellent defensive catcher who particularly shone at stopping balls in the dirt ... Called some pitches for the OV staff and became adept at that aspect of the job … Offensively batted .412, scored 18 runs and drove in 13, including several at key times … Excelled at driving outside pitches to the opposite field.
Mitchell’s Quotes: “He’s incredible at blocking the ball. I don’t think I watched him run to the backstop three or four times all season … When people got on and Thomas comes up, they’re coming home somehow … He’s extremely smart. His work ethic shows on the ballfield and in the classroom … Thomas has amazed me with how much he has continued to improve every year … He works hard, knows the game, and always gives 100 percent.”
JUSTIN OWEN, OV SENIOR. Notes: Had a fine season on the mound and as the OV DH … Earned an 8-0 pitching mark, including two playoff wins, with an earned-run average of about 2.00 … Tossed 58 innings, used a fastball around 80 mph and a couple of off-speed pitches to strike out 54, while allowing 33 hits and walking 24 … Finished strong at the plate and batted .327, scored 16 runs and drove in 11.
Mitchell’s Quotes: “On the mound, he seemed to have a first-inning struggle, and every time he got better as the game got on … When he got focused, he was lights-out … Once he started connecting, he was going to hit the ball hard … Justin always puts the team first and is always willing to do what is needed to win … Justin has been a great kid to coach and I have really enjoyed watching him refine his game.”
CHARLIE STAPLEFORD, VUHS SENIOR. Notes: Had the best raw stuff among local pitchers, as evidenced by his 57 strikeouts in 39.2 innings against mostly Metro competition … Finished with a 5-2 record in 39.2 innings and an ERA of 2.82 in the state’s toughest league … Used his strong arm to good effect as a catcher when not on the mound … Batted .321 with six doubles, 15 runs and nine RBIs in 16 games.
Ringer’s Quotes: “There’s no doubt about Charlie’s stuff … When Charlie is right out there, I can’t imagine anyone is better than Charlie … He has three overpowering pitches … I loved it when he was behind the plate … He just has a great arm for it. He was huge behind the plate for us … He was huge for us offensively, too.”
JOHN WINSLOW, OV SOPHOMORE. Notes: Versatile infielder who provided depth in the OV batting order from the No. 8 spot, scoring a local high of 25 runs and driving in 12 while hitting .407 … Split time between second and third base depending on who was pitching, and defended both positions well … Also started and won two games on the mound.
Mitchell’s Quotes: “He’s not a big vocal guy. He just gets the job done … At the end of the day, you go, ‘Holy cow, he went three for four’ … Offense, defense, it doesn’t matter, he’s going to give you 110 percent … I don’t even know if he had an error … He’s only a sophomore, so I’ve got something to look forward to for the next couple years.”
SAWYER KAMMAN, MOUNT ABE JUNIOR. Notes: Used his excellent control over a fastball, curve and changeup to keep opposing hitters off balance and compile a 5-5 pitching record for a 6-10 team in Vermont’s toughest league … Had a fine 2.25 ERA in 59 innings of work, striking out 36 and issuing just seven walks … Played strong defense at shortstop when not on the mound.
Stetson’s Quotes: “He was my best option every time … His control was extremely good ... His control was his strength … He was able to throw three pitches for a strike … He really grew over the course of the season mentally. He was able to think along with the hitters.”
TAYLOR PATTERSON, MUHS SENIOR. Notes: Hit Metro Conference pitching at a .362 clip with three doubles and drew enough walks to earn a .400 on-base percentage … Scored 11 runs and drove in eight, totals that would have been higher had he played in a more productive offense and accounted for 38 percent of the Tigers’ 50 runs this spring … Played errorless ball in left field.
Messenger’s Quotes: “He was a strong outfielder … He doesn’t look that fast, but he covers a lot of ground … His (batting) fundamentals are very strong … He just swings so hard … He’s just a very good athlete, too … Taylor’s legit, there’s no question.”
HONORABLE MENTION: Nick Richer and Wade Steele, VUHS, and Chad Lonergan and Shane Quenneville, OV.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.