by Ken Brown
HARDWICK – The Division III baseball state tournament bracket was officially blown wide open last week as eighth-seeded Vergennes pulled off a massive upset on the road against top seeded Hazen Union.
Tyler Kimball pitched six gritting innings to earn the win, navigating around nine surrendered hits and striking out five to help Vergennes advance to the semifinals with a huge 9-4 upset over the Wildcats on Saturday. Elijah Scribner led the offense with a pair of hits and two runs scored as the Commodores turned a lead-off walk in the top of the first into a 2-0 lead off an uncharacteristic throwing error from senior shortstop Tyler Rivard. The Wildcats would even the score at 2-2 in the top of the third with a pair of singles from Brendan Moodie and Jadon Baker and a sacrifice fly from Rivard. The two teams would trade runs the next three innings, making it 3-3 heading into the top of the seventh.
“Vergennes is a solid club and they came off the bus with a lot of energy. With the game being canceled on Friday, I felt like our guys were a bit over amped with the extra day off. Lyle’s four pitch walk to start the game and Tyler’s early error were uncharacteristic and I knew we were going to be in a battle the rest of the way after that,” said head coach Spencer Howard.
Senior ace Lyle Rooney only needed six pitches to dispatch the Commodores in the top of the sixth. The Wildcats put traffic on the base paths against Kimball all day, but the crafty left-hander wiggled his way out of trouble time and time again, including a pair of bases-loaded jams.
It was Vergennes turn to apply the pressure in the top half of the seventh, putting the lead-off man on with an error from left fielder Dan des Groseilliers and a walk from Rooney. The flood gates would open from there with two more errors from Rooney, a pair of perfectly executed squeeze bunts from Vergennes, capped off by a bases clearing triple. When the dust settled, the Wildcats were behind the eight ball, facing a 9-3 deficit in the bottom of the seventh.
Hazen Union would mount one final charge, loading the bases with one out, but the Commodores put the finishing touches on the upset with a perfectly executed double play. Rooney suffered his first loss of the season, striking out 10 over six and two-thirds, with only two of his seven surrendered runs being earned. Rooney also led the offense with three hits and an RBI, fellow seniors Jadon Baker and James Montgomery combined for three hits and an RBI, and Rivard smashed a triple to deep left center to drive in a run. Gabe Scribner drove in a pair of runs for Vergennes as they improved to 8-10 on the season and will advance to the division III Final Four.
“This group has been in a lot of high-pressure situations over the last three years and unfortunately we showed some jitters in some key moments of this game. The reality is that if we take care of the ball like we have all season, it’s a 4-1 ballgame our way, but that’s just baseball sometimes. I feel for the guys and these seniors who worked so hard all year to earn that top seed and have it end like that for them. They were down and deflated after the game, but that result is not a true reflection of the team they’ve grown into all season and the program that they’ve helped build here at Hazen. We’re going to hurt for a while, but I’m proud and they should be proud of what they’ve accomplished the last four years,” said Howard.
Rooney, Rivard, Baker, and Montgomery are the epitome of a special group of seniors that any coach would love to rebuild a program with. They came through youth baseball together, went through tragedy and COVID together, and came out the other side with the best three-year stretch of baseball in school history with a 42-13 record. Hazen Union has had four winning seasons from their 1982 state title to 2005 and not a single winning season from 2008-2020. Howard is the only Hazen Union coach to play in a state championship game (2007) and then lead the program to another appearance in 2022. The late Dan Hill won a state title with Hardwick Academy and led the Wildcats to Centennial Field in 2007. If Howard never coaches another game at Hazen, he will go down as the only head coach in school history with a winning record.
“The success of this program the last few years is definitely not a “Me” thing, it is about so many people behind the scenes giving their time and energy. It’s about our seniors showing up four years ago and buying in early to practicing and playing the game the right way. They brought their games to the highest level through grit and determination and I am so proud to have coached this group. They had their freshman season taken away from them and grew and supported one another through the tragic and emotional losses of Dan Hill, Finn Rooney, and Jared Cushing. I benefited as a person from coaching them and also benefited as a coach from all of the time Joe Rivard has invested in these kids since they were in Little League. It was so much fun coaching this team and watching them bring Hazen baseball to a new level and watching the community get excited to come out and support what they were accomplishing on the field,” said Howard.
Vergennes squared off against the winner of the Windsor/White River Valley match-up in the semifinals on Tuesday.