O’s Nip Ghosts
Oxbow’s Nate Smith slides into home for a run during the Olympians’ home game with Randolph yesterday. Oxbow prevailed in eight innings, 4-3. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Randolph’s Jay Swarts, left, watches as teammate Ben Jickling settled under an infield pop-up. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Oxbow baseball players celebrate after scoring the winning run in yesterday’s eight-inning victory over Randolph. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Bradford, Vt. — When the going gets tight for the Oxbow Union High baseball team, the Olympians’ bats come to life.
The O’s won on a walk-off hit for the second time in three games and third time of the season yesterday, designated hitter Hunter Bingham driving home Andrew Lyman in the bottom of the eighth inning for a come-from-behind, 4-3 win over Randolph Union.
In their first meeting of the season, the Capital League rivals came in tied for second place in Vermont Division III. The Galloping Ghosts (8-3) lost for the third time in four games after a 7-0 start while Oxbow (9-2) stayed within striking distance of unbeaten BFA-Fairfax for No. 1 seed in the upcoming state tournament.
The Olympians also had a walk-off win May 11 against Enosburg, scoring seven runs over the final two innings. They walked off in a 2-1 win over Lyndon in the second game of the year and also rallied in the seventh inning of a 5-4 win at Thetford on April 30.
“I hope it says something about the character of our team,” said Oxbow coach Shawn French. “It’s one of those things where you don’t want to be in this situation a lot, but for some reason, when the pressure is on is when we really seem to bear down and focus.”
The Olympians’ seventh- and eighth-inning rallies both came with two outs, the former when as No. 9 hitter Tyler Gillis drove in Justin Boyce to force the eighth.
Nursing a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh, Ghosts pitcher Jacob Sprague (eight innings, 10 hits, three earned runs, one walk, no strikeouts) induced first-pitch fly outs against both Quinten Mahikoa and Bingham to lead off the inning, then went ahead 0-2 against Boyce. The senior center fielder drove the next pitch into left for a single, went to third on Randolph’s lone error of the day — a high throw to first from senior shortstop Ben Jickling — and scored on Gillis’ base hit up the middle to make it 3-3.
“It’s different guys every day for us that get the big hits,” French said. “Today, it was Gillis and Bingham. Every other (late-game rally), it’s been different guys.”
Oxbow pitcher Sully Carter (eight innings, three hits, four walks, four strikeouts) got out of a jam in the eighth after the O’s own lone error — also at shortstop, on a bobble by Hunter Torrey — allowed Jickling to reach. He was bunted to second by DH Leland Goodenough, catcher Ryan Caswell was intentionally walked, and the runners moved to third and second base, respectively, on a passed ball. Carter induced a ground out against Zach LaPerle to end the threat.
Sprague sat down Jobin Messenger and Carter to begin the bottom of the eighth before the O’s delivered three consecutive singles. Lyman and Mahikoa hit safely to left before Bingham drove a 2-2 pitch down the right field line for the win, scoring Lyman from second.
“I was just trying to stay ahead of the ball and keep it away from the second baseman,” Bingham said. “All of these (late-game) wins are very meaningful because last year we sort of struggled playing as a team, and this year we’re finding ways to win. It’s good to keep that going.”
Averaging better than nine runs per game entering the contest, the Ghosts were held to three runs or fewer for just the third time this year — but the second time in three games. They were swept in a home-and-home set against D-II front runner Lamoille on May 11 and 17 before getting back on track with an explosive 21-5 win at Union-32 on Saturday, the sixth time of the year the tallied double-digit runs.
Yesterday’s loss left 20th-year Randolph coach Mike Czok shaking his head. “Sure, I feel good about this year’s team, but not about today,” he said. “We didn’t have a good day at the plate and made mistakes in the field that cost us.”
Two of Carter’s four walks came against the first two batters he faced, helping the Ghosts push a run across in the first as Sprague (lead-off walk) scored on Caswell’s RBI groundout to make it 1-0.
Carter settled in, using an effective breaking ball to help retire 14 of the next 15 batters he faced from the second through sixth innings.
“My fastball hasn’t been working the best for me lately, but I had good control of my curve ball today, so I just kept throwing it,” Carter said.
Oxbow got a double from Bingham to help score a pair of runs in the fifth to take the lead.
Mahikoa drew a lead-off walk, and pinch runner Smith went to third on Bingham’s blast. Boyce hit the ball to Jickling at shortstop, and Smith beat the throw home to tie it. Bingham later scored on Ethan Johnson’s sacrifice fly to make give the O’s a 2-1 lead.
Randolph went back ahead in the seventh, finally getting to Carter. Goodenough and Caswell led off with consecutive singles — the latter on a bunt — and a walk to LaPerle loaded the bases with no outs. Pinch runner Jay Swarts scored on senior Alex Gilbert’s sacrifice fly before Caswell stole home, sneaking under the tag from Oxbow catcher Mahikoa. Caswell had broke for home after Carter tried to pick off LaPerle at first.
The play gave Randolph a 3-2 lead, setting up the hone team’s heroics in the seventh and eighth.
Jared Pendak can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3306.