Motivation Works for Ghosts: Unusual History Lesson Lifts Randolph to Baseball State Crown
Randolph catcher Ross Caswell hugs teammate Alex Gilbert after the Galloping Ghosts won the Vermont Division III championship last night at Centennial Field in Burlington. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Randolph’s Ben Jickling lunges after BFA-Fairfax’s Ben Pomichter to tag him after Pomichter attempts to steal second during last night’s Vermont Division III championships game at Centennial Field in Burlington. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Burlington — To motivate his players prior to yesterday’s 3-2, come-from-behind win over BFA-Fairfax in the Vermont Division III state championship game, Randolph Union High baseball coach Mike Czok didn’t mind alluding to a little history — albeit unflattering.
Lest the Galloping Ghosts’ six seniors forget how long of a road it’s been, Czok displayed the scoresheets from a 14-1, first-round loss to the Bullets during their freshman year.
“I put them up on a bulletin board (in the locker room),” said Czok between congratulatory handshakes and hugs following yesterday’s win. “I said, ‘Remember this?’ ”
Sure they do, but their playoff memories will be much better after yesterday.
Senior pitcher Jacob Sprague — one of five fourth-year starters on the Ghosts -— tossed a three-hit gem and the second-ranked Randolph (17-3) overcame a 2-0 deficit with a three-run fifth inning to hand the No. 1 Bullets (18-1) their first loss of the season.
Sprague retired the side in order three times while needing just 90 pitches, 60 for strikes.
Junior catcher Ross Caswell (two RBIs) and senior Zach LaPerle had run-scoring hits for the Ghosts, who drew a hit by pitch and two walks to start the fifth off of inconsistent BFA starter Ben Pomichter (41∕3 innings, three earned runs, three hits, seven walks, two strikeouts).
Fairfax had a leadoff runner caught stealing in the sixth and left a man on in the seventh as Randolph clinched just its second-ever title and first since winning the D-II crown in 1989.
“Us seniors have been through a lot, and coach reminded us about it,” said Sprague, whose team won four games in 2011 and 10 last year. “Through it all, we never lost confidence in each other.”
While striking out only two and walking three, Sprague’s defense fielded 14 flyouts and recorded four assists with one inconsequential error.
“I don’t have a killer fastball, but I throw strikes and it keeps the defense alive,” the pitcher said. “That’s what I like to try to do.”
BFA displayed strong defense early, which helped to set up its early lead. Bullets third baseman Kyle Combs snagged a hard liner from Alex Delhagen in the second inning, then fired to second base to double up LaPerle.
In the third, Pomichter dove full-sprawl to gather a popup bunt from Alex Gilbert for the first out, and the pitcher alertly erased the lead runner at third for the second out on a grounder to the right.
Even when committing their lone error of the day in the fourth inning, the Bullets got an out as center fielder Evan McGregor gathered Pomichter’s errant throw to second on a pickoff attempt and fired to third to nab an advancing Caswell.
Pomichter didn’t allow a hit in the first three innings.
“Our pitcher had some good stuff, but he had some really great defense behind him,” said BFA-Fairfax coach Mike Brown. “That’s what really gave us a chance to win.”
The Bullets broke through in the bottom of the fourth, as Alex Chapman drew a rare four-pitch walk off Sprague to lead off and advanced to third on Kris Wehner’s opposite-field shot down the right field line.
Chapman scored on Combs’ sacrifice fly for the first out, and Wehner came home on another poke to the opposite field, this one from Hoover to make it 2-0.
Pomichter recorded the first out on two pitches to start the fifth, but then ran into control problems against a patient top of the Ghosts’ lineup. On full counts against Randolph’s No. 1-3 hitters, he hit Brandan Keyes in the shoulder and walked Ben Jickling and Sprague to load the bases for Caswell, whose two-run shot into left tied it 2-2.
That chased Pomichter, but the Ghosts weren’t done. LaPerle worked another count full against reliever Zac Roy before driving one into center for a 3-2 Randolph advantage.
Roy struck out Delhagen to end the rally before Sprague needed just seven pitches — all strikes — to retire BFA in the home half of the fifth.
“We allowed them to wrestle momentum back from us and we’re kind of an emotional team,” said Brown, whose team was trying to capture a second title in three seasons. “If we get out of that fifth inning, I think it would have been off to the races for us.”
Randolph had only three baserunners the rest of the day, and the quick-hurling Roy picked off each one. Yet the Bullets couldn’t counter.
Chapman walked in the sixth but was caught stealing by Caswell, and Hoover, who reached on a one-out infield single, was stranded at first in the seventh when Sprague induced a groundout against McGregor and struck out No. 9 hitter Tanner Benoit to end it, setting off a wild celebration for the Ghosts and their supporters.
“I can’t even begin to say what this means to the school, the town and me personally,” Czok said. “Our seniors have worked their butts off for four years and I’m just really happy with this team. I loved being with these guys every day. I wish we could get up and do it again tomorrow.”
Extra Bases: BFA pitching issued four four-pitch walks, three by Pomichter. More than half of Pomichter’s pitches were balls ... Sprague needed fewer than 15 pitches to retire the side in five innings. ... Randolph’s Nick Jickling, Dylan Jacobs and Sprague were all picked off during the final two innings. ... Randolph graduates Gilbert, Ben Jickling, LaPerle, Mackenzie Poirier, Sprague and Jay Swartz.
Jared Pendak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3306.