VERGENNES — A year after losing a heartbreaking first-round Division II home playoff game in extra innings, the No. 7 Vergennes Union High School baseball team on Tuesday won one in dramatic walk-off style.
Senior DH Andrew Lucia ripped a clutch seventh-inning single to left field, and senior co-captain Dylan Bresnick raced around from second base to score and give the Commodores a 3-2 win over No. 10 Windsor.
The run at least partially erased the memories of last year’s crushing extra-inning defeat by Milton, a game that the Commodores thought they had won three times in one inning. It also marked the first playoff win for Bresnick and fellow co-captain and three-year veteran Collin Curler after first-round home losses in each of the past two seasons.
“My first two years on the team we were 0-2 in the playoffs,” Bresnick said. “I’m 1-2 now. It’s awesome, me and Collin. It’s great.”
As a bonus, the Commodores will also host a quarterfinal, courtesy of No. 15 Middlebury’s 6-5 upset of No. 2 Fair Haven, also on Tuesday. The Tigers will visit VUHS at 4:30 p.m. on Friday.
Coach George Ringer said he has faith his young Commodores — Lucia and Bresnick were Tuesday’s only senior starters — can advance. But he also said his team must do a better job of moving runners along and must avoid the mistakes that lead to both of Windsor’s unearned runs on Tuesday, an errant throw and a botched rundown.
“If we play a good game on a certain day, we can beat any team in our division. I totally believe that. But today I was wondering if we were even going to beat a 10 seed,” Ringer said. “We need to come out and execute and we’ll be OK. I have a lot of confidence in this team, in the skills of this team. But if we don’t put those skills to good use, it’s all going to fall apart for us.”
At the same time, the Commodores have a lot of confidence they will make the plays. For one thing, Bresnick said their 6-10 record is misleading compared to other D-II squads that do not play in the primarily D-I Metro Conference.
“There are a lot of other teams in this division right now that haven’t played as good competition,” he said. “I think it has geared us up for this. I think we’re ready.”
The Commodores also had a three-part season: After a 3-0 start, they lost eight straight vs. the Metro iron, then bounced back to win three of five down the stretch. Bresnick said the late success restored the Commodores’ faith.
“It was so important. We lost eight in a row. Everybody was down. We weren’t really focused,” he said. “Everybody is focused right now. Everybody wants to win. It’s just a great feeling right now.”
In Tuesday’s game Charlie Stapleford started on the mound for VUHS and went 4.2 innings, striking out 10, allowing just one hit and walking three.
He ran into trouble at times but wriggled off the hook thanks to his strikeouts and, in the second, catcher Wade Steele, who blocked two balls in the dirt with a runner on third.
The Commodores had Windsor starter Noah Johnson on the ropes for much of the game; he allowed seven hits, walked three and gave up several hard-hit outs, but left after 5.1 innings with the game tied at 2-2. VUHS stranded eight runners through six innings, two when reliever Jacob Page got the final two outs of the sixth.
VUHS struck first in the second inning. Curler singled with one out, and starting centerfielder and eventual winning pitcher Devin Hayes followed with an opposite-field double down the right-field line. First baseman Ryan Crowningshield then plated Curler with a groundout to second.
Stapleford ran into trouble in the third when he walked the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, Kyle Cushing and Nate Marden, to lead off. Matt Tufts bunted, and Stapleford had Cushing easily forced at third, but threw the ball into left field, allowing him to score.
Marden moved to third when Page forced Tufts at second with a ground ball. Stapleford then picked Page off, but when the Commodores failed to execute the rundown Page made it back to first and Marden scored to make it 2-1.
VUHS tied the score in the bottom of the frame. Left fielder Colin Babcock singled and stole second. Babcock moved to third on a Bresnick ground ball and scored on a Stapleford’s RBI grounder.
In the fifth, Stapleford reached his pitch count limit, and Hayes came on to retire the final hitter. Hayes — the probable starter on Friday — struck out two and set down seven straight batters to earn the win, with help from a sensational running catch from right fielder Zach Ouellette to end the Windsor seventh.
VUHS continued to get baserunners — eight Commodores had one hit apiece — but hit the ball right at fielders and let Johnson off the hook. In the sixth, Johnson tired and walked Hayes and Crowningshield with one out, but Page came on to end the threat.
Page was less fortunate in the seventh. Bresnick earned a leadoff walk and stole second. With one out, Steele also walked, bringing up Lucia. Lucia lined a single to left, hit so hard that Ringer first went to hold Bresnick at third. But the left fielder momentarily bobbled the ball, and Bresnick bolted home with the winning run.
Bresnick recalled that not only had the Commodores lost in extra innings in 2010, but had been upset at home in 2009. Tuesday went a long way to erase those memories, he said.
“The last two years were a disappointment,” Bresnick said. “It feels so good.”
The Commodores have come together during their recent surge, he said.
“We feel like a team right now,” Bresnick said. “We’ve got a team right here, and we’re going to do something about it.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]