The great New Yorker writer Roger Angell once said that, for him, the real attraction of watching baseball is that “I might see something that I’ve never seen before.”
I thought of those words after watching the Leland & Gray Rebels and Green Mountain Chieftains do battle on the softball diamond at McKenzie Field in Chester last Friday.
The bare facts are that Green Mountain rallied to win their Division III quarterfinal, 3-2. The rest of the story is even more interesting.
The top-seeded Chieftains entered the game undefeated at 16-0 and have one of the best pitchers in the state in Stephanie Knockenhauer. The No. 8 Rebels struggled to get to the playoffs and have had an up-and-down season.
On paper, GM was going to win in a rout. On the diamond, it was a totally different story. When they played each other at the start of the regular season, GM needed extra innings to win. And Friday’s game was just as close.
Knockenhauer and Rebels pitcher Elizabeth Symanski dueled most of the way. Both teams played tremendous defense. And, heading into the GM sixth, the Rebels held on to a 1-0 lead and six outs away from a big upset.
The only run of the game to that point came in the third inning. after Rebels center fielder Emily Stockwell led off with a sharply-hit single to left. She ended up scoring on an error. That was GM’s only shaky inning in the field, but the Rebels would have their fortunes turn in the sixth.
GM’s Leah Bodin led off with a bunt single. Sasha Petrycki followed with a one-out single. After Rachel Martel popped up to the pitcher for the second out, it looked like the Rebels would escape. But GM’s Taylor Wilson, who had been hitting the ball hard all afternoon, came to the plate.
Wilson worked the count full, so Rebels coach Tammy Clausen signaled to Symanski to intentionally walk Wilson.
Instead, Symanski threw a strike across the plate that went off catcher Elizabeth Gallup’s glove and rolled behind her. In the chaos, Wilson ran to first, while Bodin alertly ran home from third.
An intentional walk turned into a strikeout and a passed ball, with a run scoring to tie the game. That’s a play I’ve never seen before, and others watching Friday were hard-pressed to come up with that scenario as a run-scoring possibility.
That was the opening the Chieftains were waiting for. Jordan Stewart reached on a error to score Petrycki and Emily Castillo followed with a blooper over first base to score Wilson and make it 3-1 Chieftains.
Now it was GM that was three outs from a win, and the Rebels came oh-so-close to coming back in the top of the seventh. Emily Thibault singled up the middle and Rachel Borgenson reached on a bunt to put the tying runs on base. A sacrifice bunt by Kelly Bruder moved both into scoring position and Stockwell hit a sacrifice fly to score Thibault.
Then it all came down to Symanski. She hit a ground ball just behind first base, and Castillo won the foot race to the bag to end the game.
Knockenhauer finished with nine strikeouts, while Symanski had five.
“It’s a heartbreaking way to end a season,” said Clausen. “But we gave them a really tough game.”
GM coach Terry Parker said he knew his team had dodged a bullet. “Leland & Gray plays a much tougher schedule than we do, and they are a better team than their record. To be undefeated, you have to be good and you have to be lucky. We were both today.”
In their playdown game on June 3, Leland & Gray rolled over Northfield. 15-0. Symanski pitched a one-hitter, and just missed out on a perfect game. She struck out nine and walked no one. The Rebels pounded out 15 hits as Erica Cutts, Kori Coburn, and Borgesen all went 3-for-3. Thibault drove in three runs, and Jordan Gouger had two hits. Leland & Gray finished the season with a 8-10 record.
• Eighth-seeded Brattleboro rallied back twice from three-goal deficits, but couldn’t hold back No. 9 Burlington, as the Seahorses scored with 8.6 seconds in regulation to win their Division I first-round game, 11-10, at Natowich Field on June 4.
Brattleboro trailed 6-3 in the first half, but goals by Megan Siggins and Cassidy Stebbins cut the Burlington lead to 6-5 at the half.
Hannah Lynde, who scored three goals in the game, brought the Colonels the tying goal with 14:07 left in the second half. Burlington’s Iris Buchanan then scored three unanswered goals to take a 10-7 lead with 9:11 remaining. Again, the Colonels battled back and Alex Fellows scored her third goal of the game with 22.4 seconds to go to make a 10-10 game.
But Burlington promptly answered with a go-ahead goal, and the Colonels did not have enough time to respond.
“This team has a lot of fight in them. My goal for them every game is to never be outworked and to control the things that they can control, which is ground balls,” said first-year coach Shannon Garrett. “I thought the hustle for ground balls and loose balls was pretty intense, which is what really got us back in the game.”
But as crushing as the loss was, Garrett took the long view. After the game, she showed reporters a journal entry she wrote after one of the team’s practices in March.
“We have incredible talent -- not the best in the state, but I have a feeling the heartbeat of this team is so strong, there is nothing we can’t do together,” wrote Garrett. “My goal for the season is not to win games or State — my goal is for us to love each other unconditionally, never question whether we could have worked harder, and to have a family for life.”
Garrett said she read those words to her grief-stricken players after the game, and that her sentiments were unchanged. “The loss hurts, but the friendships will endure,” she said.
In addition to Fellows, Lynde, and Siggins, graduating seniors include Joamey Cancel, Lizzie Clark, Katelyn Donovan, Haley George, Meghan Kinsman, Marissa Semenovich, and Gaia Uman-Borrero.
• Fourth-seeded Brattleboro had eight days to rest up for its quarterfinal match with No. 5 Middlebury last Saturday, but it wasn’t a help for the Colonels in a 20-8 loss to the Tigers at Natowich Field.
The loss could be summed up in four words — too much Sam Usilton. The Tigers’ attacker scored seven goals and had his way with the Colonels. He had two of Middlebury’s first five goals as the Tigers led 5-0 just 3:30 into the match.
Brattleboro tried to get back into it as Sam Siegel, Brennen Zolnoski and Conner Elliott-Knaggs scored to make it 5-3 with three minutes left in the first quarter.
The Colonels got no closer as Middlebury ended up with a 10-5 lead at the half. The Tigers pushed it up to 15-7 after three quarters, and then scored four unanswered goals in the fourth to seal the win.
“Middlebury works hard, plays hard, and they are athletic,” said Colonels coach Chris Sawyer. “They just made shots and possessed the ball.”
It was also a very physical game, as Middlebury received a season-high number of penalties and outmuscled the Colonels at every juncture.
Elliott-Knaggs finished with three goals for the 12-5 Colonels. Siegel added two goals, and Robyn Avery, Tanner Freeman and Zolnoski all scored once.
It was the last game for seniors Elliott-Knaggs, Siegel, Cesar Borges, Bryce Fletcher, Colby McGinn, Kyle Patno, and Vijay Woodworth. This was a group that helped the Colonels win three Marble Valley League titles in the past four years.
“These guys have been such a big part of our success over the past few years, but more than being good lacrosse players, they are just a great group of kids,” said Sawyer. ”This one hurts.”
• Ninth-seeded Twin Valley pulled off a shocker when they upset top-seeded West Rutland, 7-6, in a Division IV quarterfinal on Sunday.
Trailing 5-2, the Wildcats rallied for five runs in the top of the sixth. An RBI double from Christina Moore, along with suicide squeeze bunts by Kaylea Niles and Natalie Herrick, were the highlights of the rally.
Colton Butler threw a two-hitter to get the win. She struck out four, walked five and caught a line drive with the tying run at third in the bottom of the seventh to end the game.
Butler threw a one-hitter on June 3 as Twin Valley crushed Twinfield, 15-1, in the playdown game. She struck out six and walked two, and helped her cause with a 2-for-5 day at the plate with a triple and three RBIs.
Savannah Nesbitt and Moore both went 3-for-5 with two RBIs each. Natalie Herrick added two hits and two RBIs.
This is the first time that Twin Valley (7-10) has advanced out of the quarterfinals. They were scheduled to travel to No. 4 Blue Mountain for a semifinal game on Tuesday,
• Sixth-seeded Brattleboro was upset by No. 11 Colchester, 16-5, in a Division I playdown on June 2 at Sawyer Field.
The defending state champs took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, but Colchester took control of the game with seven runs in the second inning, three more in the fifth, and another six runs in the sixth.
Starting pitcher Hannah Wilson took the loss, with Jess Ogden and Maddy Derosia mopping up in relief. Between them, they issued 13 walks, and hit three batters. Three errors by the Colonels’ defense also hurt.
Rachel Cleary was the winning pitcher for Colchester. She scattered seven hits but walked only one batter and hit another.
Derosia had an RBI single and Wilson smacked an RBI triple to lead the Brattleboro attack. Mckinlie Carpenter, Devin Millerick, Sirea Butler, and Jess Ogden also hit safely.
The Colonels finished their season with a 10-7 record.
• Peoples handed sixth-seeded Bellows Falls a 5-0 loss in their Division II softball playdown. Pitcher Murphy Hicks struck out nine and gave up only three hits, but still suffered the loss.
Steph Parsons had two of BF’s four hits, Chelsea Wilder and Emily Stoddard had the others as the Terriers ended the year with a 8-7 record.
• No. 7 Brattleboro began its playoff run with a 9-1 defeat of No. 10 North Country Falcons in a Division I playdown game on June 3 at Tenney Field.
Brattleboro pitcher Danny Richardson went the distance for the win, striking out eight batters and walking three. After giving up a run in the first inning, he shut down the Falcon bats the rest of the way.
Kassidi Ramirez, Kevin Tao, Michael Rooney and Ryan McAuliffe all had two hits each for the Colonels. Hunter Smith and Rob Heileman each added a hit. Brattleboro scored two runs in the third inning and seven in the fourth.
In the quarterfinal last Friday, the Colonels lost to second-seeded Champlain Valley, 5-3. CVU’s Hayden Smith hit a two-run single in the fifth inning that turned out to be the game-winning hit.
CVU pitcher Rayne Supple earned the win, giving up five hits, striking out 12 and walking three batters in six innings. Kassidi Ramirez went five innings, allowing five runs, in the loss for the Colonels. Jimmy Mills drove in a run; he and Rob Heileman had two hits apiece. The Colonels finished with an 11-7 record.
• Eighth-seeded Bellows Falls got by Oxbow, 8-7, in the Division II playdowns, but couldn’t get past Harwood in the quarterfinals, as the Highlanders squeezed out a 4-3 win.
Matt Fischer’s three-run homer tied the game in the third inning and Dominick Moreno tallied the winning run in the fifth as host Harwood held on to win. Moreno was 2-for-4 with a double. Riley Abair was 2-for-3 and winning pitcher Tyler Atwood, striking out five in two innings of relief, had the game-winning RBI for the Highlanders.
Chris Armstrong threw five innings in a losing effort for BF. Ethan Illingworth and Alex Groenewold each had two hits for the Terriers.
• Josh Donna went 4-for-5 with three RBIs as No. 10 Leland & Gray upset No. 7 Williamstown, 12-3. Donna was the winning pitcher, with eight strikeouts. Corey Nystrom added three hits and Nick Bills went 2-for-4. In the quarterfinals, the Rebels were beaten by No. 2 Poultney.
• Third-seeded Twin Valley advanced to the semifinal round of the Division IV playoffs after clobbering No. 11 Proctor, 14-1, at Baker Field last Friday.
The Wildcats scored five runs in the third inning and never looked back. Colin Lozito was 2-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored. Dal Nesbitt was 0-for-3, but walked three times. Brett Swanson and Sam Molner each had three hits.
Nesbitt was the winning pitcher, giving up six hits with seven strikeouts. He walked one batter and hit one. Shaun Blanchard took the loss, lasting 4.1 innings with seven hits, three walks, and one hit batter. Proctor finishes at 3-10, and Twin Valley improves to 10-7. The Wildcats were scheduled to take on Mount St. Joseph in the semifinals on June 10.