by Ken Brown
NORTHFIELD – After a spring that saw their championship dreams dashed in the state title game as the top seeds in their respective divisions, some of the best baseball players from Hazen Union and Blue Mountain joined forces this summer to capture that elusive title together on the Babe Ruth diamond.
The Green Mountain Wild defeated Mount Mansfield, 8-5, on Sunday to capture the 2022 U18 Babe Ruth state championship. The Wild is mainly a team made up of Blue Mountain Players who went 16-0 this past spring before getting clipped in a heartbreaker 5-4 by White River in the Division IV state title game.
The Wild’s head coach is Jared Cushing who won state titles as a player at both the high school and Babe Ruth level for Blue Mountain. The team added Joe Schlesinger from Danville and Will Emerson from Oxbow this summer, but when Cushing was hired as the new athletic director at Hazen Union after the spring sports season, the Wildcat connection was created and it only made sense to add Hazen’s Lyle Rooney and Andrew Menard to an already talented roster.
Rooney has been the ace of the pitching staff for Hazen the past two seasons and Menard had a breakout sophomore season this past spring on both the mound and at the plate. The duo helped lead the Wildcats to a school record fifteen wins in 2022 and their first ever top seed in the Division III tournament. Their state title dreams were also doused at Centennial Field by Peoples Academy and Big Ben Alekson.
“We had a really good team going into the summer and Rick Fenimore is a guy you can trust on the mound in big games, but when Lyle and Andrew came on board we thought it would really be a game-changer for us,” said Cushing. “To be able to hand the ball to any of those three guys in pressure situations, especially towards the end of the season and during this title run was a luxury we hadn’t had and it really gave our entire team a confidence boost down the stretch,” added Cushing.
The unlikely jelling of star players from different successful high school programs culminated in a state championship and gave Cushing the rare distinction of winning a title as both a coach and as a player only three years ago. He struggles to find the words of what it meant to him to see such a special group of kids realize their baseball dreams over the weekend after being dealt such a crushing blow only a month and a half ago at the high school level, but he believes this experience is only going to help them become even better leaders for their respective clubs when they pick up a baseball again in the gym next winter.
“First and foremost, I’m just so grateful to have had the opportunity to build a connection and relationship with these kids this summer through coaching. Scott Blood always told me when I was a player at Blue Mountain that there was nothing like it and I just got to experience it myself. On Sunday I woke up to a notification on my phone that it was three years ago to the day that I won a state title as a player and it is just a surreal feeling to watch these talented kids accomplish that same feat. From the first day of summer to the last this group bought in to the team and to each other and if you didn’t know any better you would have thought they had been friends and teammates for years. We all had the same goal in mind all season, but we didn’t talk about, we just put our heads down and grinded out the work. You can’t really explain to someone what it actually takes to win a championship until you do it and now all of these kids have that experience in their back pocket and can take that knowledge back with them to their high school teams and I’d be willing to bet that it is going to pay off,” said Cushing.