Townshend, Vt. – Thanks to its battery of sensational sophomores, the Windsor High baseball team is heading back to the Vermont Division III championship game.
Seth Balch struck out 13 in a two-hitter and catcher Duncan Frazer drove in the tying and winning runs as the fifth-ranked Yellowjackets rallied for a 3-1 win in eight innings at No. 1 Leland & Gray on Monday.
Balch befuddled the Rebels (15-2) with a deceptive curve ball, hitting a pair of batters but walking none and striking out the side in each of the crucial sixth and seventh innings.
Trailing, 1-0, from the first inning on, Windsor (11-8) tied it in the top of the sixth after Nick Kapuscinski’s one-out double to left center. He ended up at third base on the play because of a faulty throw to the pitcher. That set up Frazer’s first RBI, a swiftly struck ground out to second base on an 0-2 pitch delivered by Leland & Gray freshman Casper Rowe, bringing in Kapuscinski to make it 1-1.
“(I’ve) got to put ball in play right there,” said Frazer, Balch’s teammate since T-ball. “That’s all I’m trying to do.”
Frazer did more than that in the eighth, fouling off a full-count pitch before driving Rowe’s next offering deep into left center to score Connor Gould, who’d reached on an infield error to start the inning. The ball skidded past Rebels center fielder Jeremy Bovat, allowing Frazer to cruise in for a standup triple as the Jacks seized a 2-1 lead.
“Duncan’s always been clutch,” said Balch, Windsor’s winning pitcher in two playoff games. “I really wasn’t surprised to see him deliver when he did. It was exactly what we needed.”
Windsor immediately added insurance, pinch runner Dakota Page charging home on a would-be squeeze play, Rowe’s throw instead finding dirt on the opposite side of the plate to allow Page to score easily.
After a walk to Ryland Richardson, Rowe recovered to retire the next two and keep it a two-run deficit. Balch needed just 10 pitches to end it in the bottom of the eighth, inducing a first-pitch groundout and striking out a pair against the Rebels’ Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters.
“I don’t know if it was my best game, but definitely the biggest stage,” Balch said. “My fastball wasn’t so great today, but luckily I had my curve ball going. We’re all just really psyched to be going to (the championship game).”
The Yellowjackets will play Saturday at the University of Vermont’s Centennial Field against the winner of today’s semi between No. 7 Williamstown and No. 3 Randolph. It’ll be Windsor’s first title-game appearance since 2004, when coach Jamie Richardson was an assistant to Don Swinyer. Windsor lost to Oxbow, capping an 0-for-5 stretch in final appearances from 1997-2004.
Swinyer departed for professional reasons following the 2014 season, leaving Richardson in charge.
“I spent 19 years with Don ‘The Bird’ Swinyer; it’ll be strange to be (in the final) without him,” Richardson said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to see him there.”
Coming in winners of 13 in a row, the Rebels tacked on a run in the first inning after leadoff hitter Pat McDonald reached on an error. Cleanup hitter Nick Marrow later drove him in from second, McDonald jumping over the outstretched arm of Frazer following a clean throw to cut off the runner.
Windsor, which finished with eight hits and five steals, had runners in scoring position in the first, third, fourth and fifth innings and stranded six base runners overall in the first five frames against the impressive Rowe (complete game, eight hits, two earned runs, three walks, five strikeouts).
“We tried to be aggressive and move runners along, but we couldn’t get the timely hit,” said Richardson. “That’s been our Achilles’ heel at times this season, but we were able to make enough plays when we needed to.”
It’s been a remarkable run for Windsor, the first No. 8 seed in seven years to reach a D-III final. The Jacks began the season 2-5, four of the losses coming against Division I opponents and the other against D-II Otter Valley.
“Two of those D-I teams (Hartford and Burr & Burton) are still in the tournament, so there was a lot of good competition early,” Richardson noted. “Facing that kind of competition right off the bat, I think, really helped us during the second half of the season.”
Windsor went 6-3 the rest of the way, shaking off consecutive MVL losses the third week of May to win its next five. The Yellowjackets shellacked No. 12 Hazen in the first round, 11-0, before knocking off higher-seeded teams in Enosburg Falls and Leland & Gray on the road.
“Even after we lost those two games (late in the year), we’ve never gotten too high or too low,” said Frazer. “Even the state championship game, we have to look at that as just another baseball game. That’s the mindset we’ve had all season.”
Extra Bases: Windsor’s win avenged an 11-1 Leland & Gray victory in last year’s quarterfinals. The MVL programs did not face off in the regular season this year. … The Yellowjackets improved to 8-6 all-time in semifinals. They’re 2-8 in finals. … Rowe finished with 104 pitches, Balch with 110. Richardson hadn’t yet decided if Balch or Kapuscinski would start in Saturday’s final. … Kapuscinski (double, run) and Frazer both finished 2-for-4, while Jake Meagher, Ryland Richardson and Casey Husband all had a single and a walk for Windsor. … A dense, hilly patch of woods behind the backstop gobbled up many a foul ball, so many the Rebels ran out of backups. The game was delayed for about three minutes in the seventh inning after Leland & Gray’s Walker Hamer hit three straight into woods, prompting Rebels athletic director Marty Testo and others to rummage for them.
Jared Pendak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3225.