by Ken Brown
HARDWICK – The Hazen Union baseball team held Williamstown hitless last week for the second time this season as they advanced to the Final Four of the division III playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Wildcat ace Lyle Rooney struck out 11 Blue Devils over five no-hit innings to lead top seeded Hazen to a dominant 10-0 home win on Saturday in the quarterfinal round. Andrew Menard and Aasha Gould combined for four hits and four RBI’s to power the offense, with Gould ending the game early in the bottom of the fifth inning with a walk-off RBI double.
“I told the guys that was just a great team win from top to bottom,” said head coach Spencer Howard. “Everyone contributed, Lyle pitched great, the defense made the plays behind him, and to see the guys continue to grind really quality at-bats in the fifth inning to try and end the game early to save our arms just reminds you that everyone is pulling in the same direction for a bigger goal on this team,” added Howard.
Rooney has held Williamstown hitless over nine innings this season and the Wildcats have outscored them 22-0 in those two meetings. James Montgomery added a double and drove in a run in the win and Tyler Rivard also added a hit and an RBI. The Blue Devils upset eighth seeded BFA-Fairfax in the opening round earlier in the week as their season came to an end at 7-9. It was a school record fourteenth win of the season for Howard’s squad, who’s team’s surge began three years ago when a three-win Hazen team traveled to Williamstown and pulled off a major upset in the first round of the playoffs. Hazen Union has reeled off 27 wins since then and are still going, claiming the top seed in the Division III playoffs for the first time in school history.
“I was talking with the Williamstown coach after the game and he was pointing out how different the direction of our programs have gone since that upset in 2019. Me and the coaches knew we had some young talent coming up and we had a real chance to turn this program around, but the kids have put in the work to get better individually and as a team and it has been really fun to watch. The guys did a really nice job of not taking Williamstown lightly, we put together long quality at-bats, put the ball in play, and took advantage of some of their mistakes,” said Howard.
Hazen Union will face fifth seeded Thetford Academy in the semifinals this week, a team that has been a thorn in the side of Howard’s Wildcats the past two seasons. The top seeded Panthers ended Hazen’s Cinderella season last year in the semifinals with a roller-coaster 11-10 win. They also have handed the Wildcats one of their two losses on the season with a 5-4 win in extra innings on May 24. Both of those losses came on the road, but Hazen has flipped the script as the road to Centennial Field will now run through Hardwick this season. Howard expects a competitive game against two very good teams, but knows the Wildcats will have to limit their mistakes in the field to advance to their first title game since 2007.
“Unearned runs have been the difference in those two losses, plain and simple. We gave them 8 last year in the semi’s and we gave them 3 last month. Both of those matchups were at their place, so hopefully we continue to play the solid defense that we have this season on our field, throw strikes, and continue to grind out good at-bats. This is a seasoned group of great kids and they don’t seem to get rattled by much. Most of them just went through a championship run in basketball a few months ago, so our leadership on this team is solid. We will literally take it one at-bat, one pitch, one game at a time from here on out and we’re looking forward to matching up with them again in front of our home fans who have been great all season,” said Howard.
Top seeded Hazen Union welcomed Thetford Academy to Hudson Fields on Tuesday, with the winner advancing to the Division III state championship game at Centennial Field over the weekend.