by Ken Brown
HARDWICK – First year head coach Spencer Howard led the Hazen Union baseball team to its first playoff victory in 12 years two seasons ago and he hopes to rekindle some of that same magic on the diamond this spring after 2020 was erased due to COVID-19.
Howard will go into the 2021 season with 16 players on the roster, with Ethan Shopland being the lone senior on the team. Hunter King, Tyson Davison, Aasha Gould, and Wyatt Flanders also return with varsity experience and Howard will have the challenge of developing a young group around them in a short period of time.
“That playoff win feels like so long ago now, but once everyone got back together and we started practicing, that feeling started coming back to the guys of what direction we had this program going in 2019. There was some rust to shake off at first, but we were able to get outside earlier than I can ever remember, and I like what I’ve seen so far. Having a Babe Ruth season last summer has really been beneficial to our younger guys and it will serve as a nice bridge to developing their skills for the speed of the varsity game. After last year, it is just nice to be out here watching the kids be able to play ball again,” said Howard.
The Wildcats should have a deep and versatile lineup, with a lot of athleticism and solid defensive fundamentals. Howard has depth on the mound and will use a committee of arms in what will be a challenging schedule that is always affected by weather and has already been altered by COVID-19. The season opener at Blue Mountain scheduled for last week was canceled after the Wildcats’ practices were paused due to protocols and their two games slated with Richford later this season have been canceled after the Falcons opted to not have a program. Hazen Union’s practices are back on track and they are scheduled to open the season at Enosburg later this week.
“We have some good athletes on this team with some quality arms and we’re going to need all of them this year, I think. I hate not having a junior varsity program this season, but it could end up being a blessing in disguise because we are going to need a lot of depth to get through a schedule that could change on a dime with weather and protocols. We have a lot of guys pushing each other to get playing time and that kind of competition sharpens a team. We’re excited to get the season started and see some live action,” said Howard.
Hazen is scheduled to travel to Enosburg on Thursday and Northfield on Saturday. Their season opener is slated for next Thursday against Danville.