by Ken Brown
HARDWICK – Behind the arm of Lyle Rooney and the biggest hit of the season from Jadon Baker, the Hazen Union baseball team edged Oxbow and Bellows Falls last week to advance to the semifinals in the Division III playoffs.
Baker and Ethan Shopland combined for five hits last Tuesday to lead the Wildcats past Oxbow 6-3 at home in the opening round of the tournament. Rooney didn’t have his best stuff, but struck out five Olympians over four and a third innings to earn the win. Tyler Rivard struck out three over two-plus innings to shut the door and record his biggest save of the season. It was the first postseason win at home for Hazen Union since 2007. Reece Ilsley led Oxbow with two hits and Chase Lund drove in one in the loss as their season ended at 3-14.
“Oxbow is always very well coached, so despite their record we expected a battle and our boys did a great job of hanging in there. We have all the faith in the world in all of our guys to go in and get the job done in crucial situations and when we got in a jam late we turned to Tyler. He stepped up big, we played good defense behind him, and we got some key hits when we needed them. It was great to host a playoff game after such a long drought and the guys scratched and clawed out an important win for us,” said head coach Spencer Howard.
Rooney found his groove on Friday, striking out 12, and Jadon Baker belted a game-winning two-run double in the top of the seventh to help the Wildcats upset Bellows Falls on the road, 4-2. Down 2-1 in the fourth, James Montgomery’s double brought home Rooney to tie the game at 2-2. Jack Crauinho had kept Hazen Union off balance all day but got wild in the seventh with two hit batters and a wild pitch to set up Baker’s two-out heroics.
Rooney finished off the Terriers in the bottom of the seventh for the complete game win, sending the Wildcats into the semifinals.
Baker and Tyler Rivard finished the day with two hits apiece. Crauinho struck out eight in the loss and drove in the Terriers’ only two runs as they finished the season at 11-7. Howard and the Wildcats have not advanced this far in the tournament in 14 years and in only his second year at the helm he has a chance to duplicate what he did at Hazen as a player.
“Making it to the title game as a player was amazing, but I’ll take this experience over that. It’s an incredible feeling to watch a great group of kids like this work hard and experience success together through that hard work. They’re pretty pumped right now and they should be. It takes a lot of grit to go on the road and beat a good team like that, but these guys love pushing hard and applying pressure and it’s fun to watch. We have another big challenge ahead of us this week, but Lyle and the guys will be ready to go and are excited for the challenge. We’ve had tremendous support in the community, our fans have traveled well, and we’ll be looking for them again at Thetford this week,” said Howard.
The Wildcats travelled to top-seeded Thetford on Tuesday. If they pull off the upset, they would play for the Division III state championship at Centennial Field over the weekend as they continue to create a baseball buzz in a basketball town.