CVU returning to state title game Saturday

As the regular season came to a close, the Champlain Valley Union High baseball team was not able to hang onto its No. 1 ranking in Division 1, so unlike last year the Redhawks did not get the advantage of beginning the postseason with a bye in the first round.

But having to play a full slate of playoff games did not stop the Redhawks, and now the team is back in the state title game at Centennial Field in Burlington at 11 a.m. on Saturday where it will face South Burlington.

The game will give the Redhawks a third chance to defeat the Wolves, which has swapped the No. 1 and No. 2 rankings with CVU during the season and beaten them twice.

Photo by Judy Stroh
Russell Willoughby. launches the Redhawks iinto the state title game on Saturday with a drive to bring home Calvin Steele for a 2-1 win over Mount Mansfield on Tuesday.
Photo by Judy Stroh Russell Willoughby
Russell Willoughby launches the Redhawks iinto the state title game on Saturday with a walk-off hit to bring home Calvin Steele for a 2-1 win over Mount Mansfield on Tuesday.

The Redhawks touted a 12-1 record until it faced South Burlington on June 28, and in the rematch the Wolves prevailed again. But still the Redhawks held the No. 1 ranking.

But then two more losses dropped the team to 12-4. CVU entered the postseason ranked No. 2 with Mount Anthony at No.3 and Burr & Burton at No. 4, both sporting 13-3 records, according to the Vermont Principals’ Association.

Colchester 1, CVU 0
On Thursday, May 30, Champlain Valley traveled to Colchester for a game that turned into a low-scoring, pitching duel.

CVU’s starting pitcher Aaron LaRose gave the Redhawks six strong innings, allowing four hits and walking just one, but he gave up the game’s one-and-only run in the second inning.

With two outs, Rishon Robenstein hit a single to right field that scored Jackson Pecor from second to give the Lakers all the offense they would need.

Colchester’s Zach Davis took the win from the mound, giving up a hit, striking out eight and walking five.
LaRose and Riley McDade got CVU’s only hits in the game.

St. Johnsbury 3, CVU 0
The Redhawks were able to find their missing bats on Saturday, June 1, outhitting St. Johnsbury seven to five, but unfortunately, they couldn’t find the plate, falling to a third shutout in three games.

This game was after most other schools had finished the regular season, as it was a makeup of a game rained out earlier in the season.

In the top of the second inning, a Redhawk error put Cage Thompson on base and Landon Robinson scored.
With Rex Hauser on first, Jason Mitchell Jr. homered to put the Hilltoppers up 3-0.

For CVU, Elise Berger threw for four innings, giving up three hits and the three runs. She struck out four and walked one. Stephen Rickert pitched three innings in relief, giving up two hits, striking out four and walking one.
The Hilltoppers got five innings on the mound from Thompson, who gave up four hits, struck out four and walked one.

Besides their scoring woes, the Redhawks did not have their usual adept fielding skills, committing five errors.

CVU 6, Rice 0
Despite the sports trope that it’s difficult to beat the same team three times in a season, Champlain Valley prevailed over Rice Memorial for a third time Tuesday, June 4, in the first round of the Division 1 baseball playoffs.

The shutout win propelled the Redhawks into the second round, and another home-field matchup on Friday, June 7, against Brattleboro. No. 11 Brattleboro won the right to the Hinesburg trip thanks to a 2-1 win over No. 6 St. Johnsbury on Tuesday.

CVU had beaten Rice 8-4 at its home field on April 25 and 13-3 at CVU on May 23.

The Redhawks jumped out to an early lead in the second. With one out, LaRose hit a ground ball that was caught, but he was safe when the first baseman dropped the ball while trying to make the tag.

LaRose subsequently stole second and third and then scored on a wild pitch. John Deyo doubled to drive in Andrew Nunziata.

A Travis Stroh triple scored Deyo to put the Redhawks up 3-0.

In the fourth, CVU added another run when Russell Willoughby scored from third on a passed ball.

A nifty Deyo line drive to left field scored Calvin Steele to add another run in the bottom of the fifth and put the Redhawks up 5-0.

Two wild pitches with Stroh at the plate moved Deyo to third and then home to add another run for the final score of 6-0.

The top of the sixth inning featured two spectacular catches by Stephen Rickert, getting out two batters in a row.
“He just goes out and gets it. That’s the mentality we’ve got to show each and every inning — that we want the ball,” coach Nicky Elderton said of Rickert’s fielding. “You know, he’s a captain for a reason.”

Elderton also had praise for Rickert’s and LaRose’s performances on the mound.

Rickert pitched the first four innings, giving up no runs and only two hits, while striking out seven and walking one. LaRose pitched the final three innings and kept the shutout intact. He gave up a hit, struck out three and walked four.

Deyo led CVU offensively with two hits in four trips to the plate.

The Redhawks continued their aggressive base-running approach, stealing six bases. Willoughby stole half of that total and LaRose added two.

Almost every time a hitter reached base, CVU brought in a courtesy runner. This is part of the team’s strategy for base running, so that as often as feasible, there’s a fresh runner, not winded and eager to steal.

“We got caught a couple of times stealing. We knew that might happen with a lefty on the mound, but that was the game plan, and we stuck to it,” Elderton said.

At least for this game, CVU appeared to have solved its spate of fielding mishaps, playing error-free ball against Rice. Before the three-game-shutout skid, the Redhawks had done very well in the error department. For the first 13 games of the season, the team averaged less than 1.6 errors a game. During the three loses, the Redhawks committed 10 errors, an average of more than 3.3 errors a game.

CVU 10, Brattleboro 0
It was just what the Redhawk coaches had ordered on Friday, June 7, Brattleboro visited CVU for a quarterfinal matchup — Champlain Valley jumped out to a lead in the first inning and went on to to a decisive win over the Bears.

Rickert got the scoring going when he knocked a sacrifice fly to right field to score Deyo.
With two outs, Declan Cummings hit into a fielder’s choice that scored Stroh and Willoughby.

Stroh continued the scoring in the second when he hit a double that brought home Steele. Stroh crossed the plate himself on a Willoughby single that made the score 5-0.

Willoughby came through with a run-scoring hit in the fourth, a double that scored Stroh and Deyo. Later in that frame, Cummings hit a hard grounder to center field that scored Willoughby and Rickert, putting CVU up 9-0.

In the fifth inning, Stroh hit a walk-off ball that bounced off the center field fence and ended the game at 10-0 via the mercy rule with two outs.

Stroh was a formidable presence at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a double, a single and the winning fly that looked the whole time as if it was going over the fence, until it didn’t.

The win was also enhanced by error-free play by the Redhawks.

LaRose threw four innings for CVU, giving up three hits, walking two and striking out nine. Berger came on in relief but only had a chance to pitch for one inning, thanks to the mercy-shortened victory. In her lone inning on the mound, Berger gave up a hit, a walk and struck out one.

CVU 2, Mount Mansfield 1
This Tuesday, June 11, the Redhawks notched their second walk-off win in a row, but by a very different and more traditional route than their previous game.

This Redhawks’ walk-off semifinal win came after a nail-biter contest that ran to eight innings.
Rickert was the king of the hill on this day. He took the mound to begin the game and didn’t relinquish that promontory for the rest of the way. Rickert gave up Mount Mansfield’s lone run and six hits, but he struck out 14.
Langdon Hazen kept the mound for the Cougars for seven and a third innings, but had to give it up when he exceeded the pitch count in the final frame. Hazen struck out seven.

The Redhawks got on the board in the bottom of the fourth, when Willoughby scored on a wild pitch.
In the top of the fifth, Mount Mansfield tied the game up at 1-all, when Caleb Murphy singled to score Owen Labor.

LaRose initiated a double play in the sixth inning that proved to be a significant point in the game, prohibiting a score and appearing to inspire the Redhawks. With one out and runners on second and third, the Cougars’ Jack Lorenzini knocked a fly down the right field line that LaRose caught and made a magnificent throw from the outfield to Steele at home plate. The Redhawks catcher upheld his part of the bargain, making a dramatic tag out at home.

LaRose said he makes that throw in practice all the time, but in a game, no so much, until Tuesday evening. “When you get one, it’s so nice,” he said after the game’s conclusion, reveling in the win.

Of course, the most significant play of the game was Willoughby’s walk-off hit to score Stroh from second and end the game with one out in the eighth.

“It was one of the most exciting high school baseball games I’ve ever been a part of or seen,” said coach Elderton, in the midst of the post-game jubilation. “They’re going to remember this for the rest of their lives.”