Bennington and Brattleboro are rivals in everything, and the Little League Baseball diamond is no exception.
The best-of-seven series in the District 2 11-12-year old tournament came down to a seventh game this week which was won by Brattleboro in a nail-biting 3-1 finish on Tuesday night at South Main Street Field.
The only run that Bennington scored was a sixth-inning home run by Quintin McIntyre off winning pitcher Alex Lier. Zinabu McNiece got the final three outs to earn the save.
McNiece got Brattleboro’s first run in on a fourth-inning double. Henry Thurber would score McNiece with a infield hit, and Tyler Millerick put the icing on the cake with a solo home run in the fifth.
The two teams were a contrast in styles. Bennington is generally bigger, has several players that can hit home runs, but their pitching and defense often disappeared at key moments. Brattleboro is generally smaller, but emphasizes speed on the bases and getting enough pitching and defense to avoid too many big innings.
As boxing fans like to say, styles make fights, and these teams went toe-to-toe in some exciting games in this series.
• Brattleboro won Game 3 at South Main Street Field on July 14, 13-9. Brattleboro took advantage of several Bennington errors as they kept the momentum rolling from the dramatic 6-5 win in Game 3 on July 12.
• In Game 4, Hay started the game off with a three-run homer off Lier to put Bennington in front to stay in a 9-4 home win. Hay, who was also the starting pitcher, gave up two early runs to Brattleboro before settling down.
Hay, the winning pitcher, was lifted with two outs in the fifth inning, Ian Benner came on in relief to get the final four outs.
Brattleboro got as close as 7-4 in the fourth inning, but Bennington kept hitting. Lier took the loss, giving up nine runs in three innings. He walked six and struck out two. McNiece finished up in relief.
• The teams returned to Brattleboro last Saturday for Game 5, and Brattleboro won, 14-13, in a game that took the boxing metaphor a little too literally at times.
Bennington loaded the bases in both the first and second innings, but only had two runs to show for it. They finally broke through for four runs in the bottom of the second, three of them on wild pitches that scored Jake Gilbeau, Huxley Holcombe, and Lier.
Bennington tied the game back up in the third. Millerick, the starting pitcher, hit his 85-pitch limit with two outs in the third, and McNiece had to come on to get the final out of the inning.
McNiece struggled through the fourth inning as Bennington took a 7-4 lead. Brattleboro got a run back in their half of the inning after Bennington’s starter, McIntire, hit his pitch limit, and was replaced by Tanner King.
Bennington then took a 9-5 lead as McNiece was knocked off the mound by a line drive off his ankle. He would stay in the game, returning to his center field spot, but it was left to Holcombe, the Game 2 hero, to finish up.
The turning point of the game came in the Brattleboro fifth. Pinch hitter Greg Fitzgerald hit a RBI single. Holcombe followed with what looked like a routine ground ball that turned into a play with multiple errors that scored two runs.
Henry Thurber came in to pinch run for Holcombe, and Millerick cracked a double to put runners at second and third with one out.
Lier then hit a ground ball to first and was out, as Thurber and Millerick were both running. Catcher Logan Sprague took the throw from first and was blocking the plate, but Thurber slid into the catcher and jarred the ball loose. Thurber was safe, Sprague was lying on the ground in pain, the ball was still sitting untouched, and Millerick alertly raced in to score a second run on the play.
Bennington manager Jesse King was livid, got into a heated arguement with umpires Frank Howard and Kevin Whitworth, and was ejected from the game. He would serve a one-game suspension in Game 6 as a result of his outburst.
Brattleboro was energized by the play, and took the lead as McNiece cracked an RBI triple and Nick Bingham hit a solo home run off Bennington’s third pitcher of the day, Michael Nolan, to make it 13-9.
A four-run lead wasn’t enough though, and Bennington tied it back up in the sixth as Benner hit a two-run homer and Nolan got another run in on a fielder’s choice.
By this point, Bennington was almost out of pitchers with the top of the Brattleboro order due up in the bottom of the sixth. Sam Wilkins walked Holcombe on four pitches and was lifted for Brodie Krawcyzk. Millerick greeted Krawczyk with a solid double to center to put Holcombe on third. Lier then hit a chopper to the right side of the infield to score the winning run.
• After all the drama of Game 5, Sunday’s Game 6 in Bennington was downright tranquil. Tanner King and McIntire both hit fifth-inning homers as Bennington stayed alive with a 6-1 win. Brattleboro’s only run came in the fifth, when Millerick hit a ground rule double and scored on a Cyr single.
Brattleboro now advances to the state finals in St. Johnsbury this weekend.
• The Brattleboro 10-year-old All Stars were swept by Bennington in their District 2 series. Bennington won the third and deciding game, 13-3, on July 13, in a five-inning game cut short by the mercy rule. They scored six runs in the second inning, needing only one hit to go with a bunch of walks, errors, and hit batsmen. Landon Davis was the winning pitcher.
It was a rough tournament for Brattleboro. In Game 1 in Bennington on July 18, they lost 8-3. Losing pitcher Sam Hall got rocked early by Bennington’s hitters, including an inside-the-park grand slam by Dylan Coyne in the fourth inning. Tanner Bushee was Bennington’s winning pitchjer.
In Game 2 in Brattleboro, Bennington rolled to a 15-3 win in four innings. Coyne and Aymen Naser led the Bennington hitters as both had 3-for-4 days. Naser had three RBIs and scored three runs, while Coyne also drove in three runs and scored twice. Bennington now hosts the state tournament, starting July 25.
Babe Ruth roundup
• The Brattleboro 15-year-old Babe Ruth All-Star baseball team are the state champions. Brattleboro won the Vermont title on Sunday, 9-2, over Suburban. Brattleboro now will play in the New England Regionals in Trumbull, Conn.
Brattleboro got to the championship game the previous weekend by beating St. Johnsbury, 7-1, and then pounding Suburban, 17-0.
Against St. Johnsbury, pitcher Ben Nelson-Betz went the distance for the victory. Trailing 1-0 after five inning, Brattleboro rallied with a Leif Bigelow ground-rule double and a suicide squeeze by Tony Martinez that scored Tyler Germain from second without an error.
As the leadoff hitter, Nelson-Betz reached base safely in all four of his at-bats. Pinch hitter Tommy Carroll delivered a bases-loaded single that put Brattleboro ahead for good.
Bigelow and Ian Fulton-Black took turns pitching in Game 2 as the Brattleboro defense turned three double plays. Tanner Bell delivered clutch hits with runners on base, Martinez hit a bomb that easily cleared the fence in right-center, and pinch hitter Korie Cliche drove one off the base of the fence in right.
Brattleboro will play Rhode Island on July 24 at 4:30 p.m., face Maine on July 25 at 10:30 a.m., and take on Western Massachusetts on July 26 at 1:30 p.m., in the opening round of the tourney.
• The Brattleboro 14-year-old All-Stars won one game and lost two in their Babe Ruth state tournament on July 11-12 at St. Albans.
In the first game, Franklin County broke open a close game late and won 11-4. Jeremy Rounds pitched a solid game and went 3-for-3 for Brattleboro.
Brattleboro won the next day over St. Johnsbury 7-3, as Adam Newton pitched a complete game and Emmanuel Keppel reached base four times for the winners. The game was tied 3-3 in the seventh when Nate Lewis and Keppel drew one-out walks, followed by consecutive clutch hits by Rounds, Jack Price, Hunter Beebe, and Joe Rafus. Newton retired the side in order to seal the win.
Immediately afterwards, Brattleboro battled Lakes Region to a 7-7 tie in the fifth, but ultimately lost, 16-7. Rounds had three more hits, and Newton went 3-for-3.
Brattleboro received some outstanding defensive plays in the outfield from Rafus, Price, and Evan Finnell, and in the infield from shortstop Bret Worden and third baseman Logan Morton, who each turned line drives into double plays.
• Brattleboro Post 5 clinched first place in the Southern Division as they swept Rutland Post 31 in a doubleheader on July 12, winning the opener 6-4 and hanging on for a 4-2 win in Game 2 in American Legion Baseball action at Tenney Field.
George Atkins picked up a complete victory in Game 1 to improve to 5-0 this season. He gave up just four hits and struck out seven, and he would help himself with an RBI double. Cam Wright went 3 for 3 with a double and a triple. Danny Richardson also went the distance in winning Game 2. Post 5 took an early lead and withstood Rutland’s attempts to rally.
Season-ending sweeps of Lakes Region and Hartford left Post 5 with a 17-1 record, followed by Rutland (15-3), Bennington (9-9), and Lakes Region (7-10). These four teams all advance to this weekend’s state tournament, while Hartford (6-10), Bellows Falls (6-12), and Randolph (1-16) all stay home.
Brattleboro is scheduled to play its first tournament game on July 23.