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Oxbow Returns to Softball Final



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Bradford, Vt. — Oxbow High pitcher Madison Fornwalt is highly effective on a normal day. When she’s irritated, opponents stand no chance.

Miffed that No. 3 Peoples Academy continually walked her intentionally — five times in all — Fornwalt released her frustration on the visiting hitters, striking out 15 in a two-hitter to fuel the No. 2 Olympians’ 11-4 win in Wednesday’s VPA Division III softball semifinals at Oxbow.

Fornwalt walked three and hit one batter but was flawless over the last three innings, striking out eight to preserve the Olympians’ lead.

Oxbow (12-3) advances to Saturday’s 11 a.m. championship game against BFA-Fairfax at Castleton University, where it will seek a second straight title and third in six years. The fifth-ranked Bullets (9-8) were an upset winner over No. 1 Green Mountain on Tuesday, 4-3.

“I think (being repeatedly intentionally walked) motivated me,” said Fornwalt, who will pitch at NCAA Division II Merrimack College in Massachusetts next spring. “Every time it happened, I went back to the dugout a little bit more ticked off. I think I started throwing a little harder every time.”

Fornwalt recorded her 400th career strikeout — in just three seasons as a starter — when she sat down Wolves third baseman Julianna Reed looking in the fifth inning. She recorded six more Ks after that as the O’s clinched a title-game berth for the third straight year.

“Honestly, I think she really settled in after she got the 400th strikeout out of the way,” said first-year Oxbow head coach Carl Hildebrandt, a former assistant under previous 28-year mentor Robin Wozny. “She works hard; she throws hard. We expected a game like this out of her today.”

Peoples counterpart Beronica Tatro allowed six hits and eight walks (three unintentional) and just two earned runs as the Wolves were plagued by six errors, each of them costly.

“It happens,” said 19th-year Peoples coach Art Lilley, whose squad beat Thetford in the quarterfinals and was seeking its first final appearance since 2012. “We’ve got 11 kids, and four of them are hurt. We’ve got freshmen in there playing significant roles, so we do the best we can. But without those errors, it’s a different game.”

Oxbow catcher Kaysea Neil went 3-for-4 with three runs and four RBIs from the leadoff spot, and shortstop Schyler Hanzas was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run for Oxbow. Both contributed to a three-run burst in the second inning, with Neil driving in two with a triple before coming home on Hanzas’ bunt single.

The Wolves answered with a pair of unearned runs in the third, taking advantage of two passed balls, an outfield error and a Reed single. Peoples seized a 4-3 lead in the fourth with a two-out triple by Adele Biasini, who later scored on another passed ball.

They were Oxbow’s final mistakes defensively, as Fornwalt and Neil went on to have one of their best days communicating this season.

“We might have been a little nervous early on, but we just had to have memories like goldfish,” Neil said. “We straightened it out.”

Neil singled and scored on an error to tie it in the bottom of the fourth, then helped Oxbow break it open with a five-run fifth. She doubled for her second two-run hit of the day and scored on another error before freshman first baseman Erika Slicer plated a pair with a single to make it 9-4. The O’s scored another pair on an infield error in the seventh.

Meanwhile, Fornwalt was masterful down the stretch, striking out the side in order in the fifth and seventh. Only a batter reaching on a third-strike passed ball kept her from sitting the Panthers down 1-2-3 in the sixth.

“I think we’re playing our best softball of the season right now,” said Hildebrandt, who spent seven years as Wozny’s assistant prior to this season. “We had our errors early today and ended up having our best game of the year.”

Extra Bases: Oxbow improved to 3-2 all time in the postseason against Peoples. The lower seed has won three times. … Saturday marks Oxbow’s fourth trip to the D-III final since 2013, during which time the program is 90-14 (.866), including playoffs. The O’s were unbeaten until the final two years ago and undefeated last year. … Hildebrandt screamed, “Get out of my dugout!” to players as they took the field prior to the first inning, one of several of Wozny’s traditions he maintains … Play was halted briefly as Hildebrandt stepped onto the field to announce the milestone to fans after Fornwalt reached her 400th career strikeout. After the game, she was given the ball and a glass case to keep it in. … Merrimack, which plays in the Northeast-10 Conference, was 33-16 this spring and reached the NCAA D-II tournament’s East Regional final.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.