by Ken Brown
HARDWICK – This week we shine the spotlight on a pair of seniors in Lyle Rooney and James Montgomery, who were instrumental in rebuilding the Hazen Union baseball program the last four seasons.
Rooney and Montgomery were part of a talented 2019 eighth grade class that watched an up and coming 4-11 Wildcat team end a 12-year playoff drought behind Lyle’s late brother Finn’s nine-strikeout complete game effort against Williamstown. After losing their freshman season to COVID, the young sophomore duo elevated the program to its first winning season since 2008 and their first Division III Final Four since 2007. They would do one better the next season, setting a school record with 15 wins and making it to the state title game at Centennial Field. The starting battery was a stabilizing force for the entire team the last two seasons for head coach Spencer Howard and they graduate with the best three-year stretch in program history with a 42-13 record, including back-to-back top seeds in the Division III tournament.
Montgomery missed the first four games of his junior season and fought his way back into the lineup as the Wildcat’s starting catcher and never looked back. He is the son of Hazen Union alum Rob Montgomery, who was the last Wildcat player to make the Vermont Twin State team in 1990. Montgomery’s favorite baseball memory at Hazen is beating Division II defending state champion U-32 his junior year. Howard calls Montgomery’s growth as a catcher and a leader the past two seasons as one of the main reasons for the success of their dominant pitching staff during their run. Montgomery had some key hits for Hazen in his sophomore and junior seasons, but truly broke out as a senior, batting over .400, driving in 17 runs, and swiping 18 bases. His efforts earned him a Second Team selection in the highly competitive Capital League.
“My dad got me into baseball when I was very young and I have so many great memories with my teammates and coaches over the years. Catching for Lyle was one of the greatest things I’ve ever gotten to do at Hazen. When he’s throwing to me in a game, it feels like we are just out there playing catch like when we were young. The last couple of years we got in sync, had the same mindset, and when I called a pitch he would nod and hit the target; there was no breaking our rhythm. Catching for Lyle was truly one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had on the baseball field,” said Montgomery.
Rooney’s electric right arm thrusted him into the role as the Wildcat ace as just a sophomore. He would deliver, and then some, over the next three years with a school record three no-hitters and 232 career strikeouts. He won his first eight games of the season this past spring on the mound, including a save, with opponents hitting a measly .159 against him. His offensive numbers were equally impressive, hitting over .400, swiping 18 bases, while driving in 17 runs. He was a unanimous Capital League First Team selection and earned an invite to the Vermont Twin State team. He will go down as one of the best, if not the best starting pitchers in school history according to Howard and credits a lot of his success to the calming presence of his battery-mate Montgomery. He recalls fond memories of falling in love with the game at an early age with his brother Finn.
“My brother and I discovered baseball together when I was very little and ended up worshipping the game before we even knew all of the rules. Playing ball for Hardwick with this group was always the highlight of my year and one of my favorite memories is the bus ride back from beating Bellows Falls to advance to the semifinals my sophomore year. Throwing to James was incredibly comforting. He knows exactly what pitch I want to throw and always sets up exactly where I want to throw it…always. I think that kind of telepathy is inherited through hundreds of innings of playing together and the communication we had between innings. When I was stressing out on the mound at times, it was always very relieving knowing he was back there to block any crazy pitches or throw out base runners. It’s one of the parts about playing for Hazen I’ll miss the most,” said Rooney.
Rooney and Montgomery may get one more go around together this summer as they are slated to be on the Hardwick 18U Babe Ruth roster…undoubtedly as the starting pitcher and catcher. Next up on Senior Spotlight: Hazen’s Tyler Rivard and Jadon Baker.