The story of the Champlain Valley Union state championship was pretty much: Get the lead early and hang on the rest of the way.
After the Redhawks (16-2) scored two runs in the first inning and four in the second, offense was a closed chapter for both teams from then on. Those six runs were more than enough to give CVU a 6-0 win in the title match over Mount Anthony Union (17-4).
When the Patriots’ final out was finished, it was instantaneous pandemonium on the mound. Suddenly, winning pitcher Stephen Rickert was smothered in a wiggling mass of teammates.
“When you see your team dogpile at Centennial Field because you won a state championship, there is no better feeling. None,” said assistant coach Sam Fontaine, who has experienced this unrivaled feeling with CVU five times in 10 years.
Once again, the Redhawks baseball team was revisiting a familiar neighborhood, a championship territory where they’ve set up camp in recent years. This state baseball title was Champlain Valley’s third title in four years, fifth since 2012.
With the shutout championship win, the Redhawks also made history by becoming just the second school in Vermont history to have won the boys state titles in football, basketball and baseball in the same year.
“The trifecta,” CVU football coach Rahn Fleming called the three-sport title sweep.
Ed Hockenbury, former athletic director at Essex High, said Essex first accomplished the feat during the 2009-10 school year.
The Redhawk’s title came behind the pitching prowess of junior Stephen Rickert, who pitched seven innings of one-hit ball. He issued a single walk and struck out five. It was the third complete game he’s thrown this year.
In the third inning, Rickert demonstrated some timely defensive skills. On a sharply hit ball that came straight back at him, Rickert deftly spun away from the ball to avoid getting hit in his front. As he spun, the pitcher reached behind himself and caught the hard-smacked drive with his back to the batter. Without a pause, he tossed the ball to first.
Rickert has made that play before, said first-year coach Nick Elderton, whose pitcher demonstrated during the season a knack for being in the right spot at the right time. During the year, his team was rallied by the confidence of Rickert and the other pitchers on CVU’s talented pitching roster.
That the second-inning, four-run offensive onslaught, which essentially put the game away, came with two outs is emblematic of his team, said coach Elderton. “It just shows the grit of this team and just who we are. It’s been amazing all year.”
He acknowledged that his team’s performance during the season was up and down in various areas of the game of baseball, but during the playoffs things were different; his players were consistent and in sync.
“In the last couple of games, we finally put together all four aspects of the game — base running, hitting, pitching and defense,” Elderton said. “It’s a pretty special day when everything is working.”
Travis Stroh led the way in the hitting aspect of CVU’s game in the title tilt, getting two hits in his three trips to the plate — a single and a homerun that accounted for four of the Redhawks’ six runs. Kyle Tivnan and Zach Santos each knocked in an RBI for CVU’s two other runs.
How the Redhawks got here
The Champlain Valley Union High baseball team achieved its early season goal of ending the regular season ranked No. 1 in the state, so it played all its playoff games at home, until the finals. And the final game on Centennial Field is almost a ritual, so the Redhawks may be starting to feel like it’s a home game, too.
The team had visited Centennial Field on a recent day and walked the field where the final contest would be held.
“They just kind of walked it visualizing that success, just seeing it. The dimensions are a lot bigger but all these kids stepped up,” Elderton said.
Their No. 1 ranking also earned the Redhawks a bye in the first round, so in their first playoff game, they faced Colchester in the quarterfinals, a team they dispatched 13-0 in a five-inning match shortened by the mercy rule.
In the semifinals, the Redhawks vanquished Mount Mansfield (13-5) 6-3 on June 6.
Chris Robinson pitched five innings to take the win for CVU with four strikeouts while yielding three hits.
Robbie Fragola got a hit all four times he stepped into the batter’s box, with two doubles and two singles.
Rickert showed off his hitting prowess on a day when he wasn’t pitching, going 2-for-3 with a single, a double and an RBI.