Randolph Baseball Thumps Poultney to Punch Ticket to Championship
Randolph’s Ben Jickling drops down after catching a throw to tag Poultney’s Zack Constantine out at second during Randolph’s 14-4 win in the Vermont Division III semifinals yesterday in Randolph. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Randolph’s Gabe Strand slides home as Poultney’s Brett Kelly charges in to cover the plate during the teams’ Vermont Division III semifinal yesterday in Randolph. Randolph won, 14-4. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Randolph — Randolph Union High baseball senior Jacob Sprague considers Centennial Field something of a taboo subject, but it’s been a challenge to avoid it. Everywhere he turns, he sees it.
He would see it, too, if only he turned his baseball cap around and looked in a mirror.
Now he can talk about it. So can his Randolph teammates, all of whom wore blue caps with “CENTENNIAL” stitched in gold on the back, something prescient and wishful that turned into reality with yesterday’s 14-4 Vermont Division III semifinal rout of Poultney at Randolph High.
Sprague and the second-seeded Galloping Ghosts (16-3) rattled two Blue Devils pitchers for 12 hits in a game that lost all drama by the third inning. The goal realized is simply the goal coach Mike Czok made apparent on apparel since preseason.
“He just puts it on there so that every time we put on our hat, it reminds us of the goal, that we’re trying to get there at the end of the season,” said Sprague, who had three hits and threw three solid innings in relief of starting pitcher Ben Jickling. “Now to finally get there, it really hits home.”
A trip to Centennial for a baseball final is anything but old hat for a Randolph program that has just one finals appearance to its credit, a D-II championship in 1989. It’s particularly meaningful for the Ghosts’ six seniors, five of whom — Sprague included — have started since they were three-win freshmen in 2010.
But it isn’t Czok’s way to soft-pedal objectives, no matter how far-fetched they may seem.
“Our goal is to win a state title; that’s where you win it,” Czok said of the Centennial cap-cappers.
“We’ve been putting that on our hats for a while. And we’re going to continue to put it on for a while, because it reminds us every day of what we’re after. It’s as simple as that.”
Getting to this point has been a slow process, but one that has seen steady improvement. From three wins as freshmen to four as sophomores, Randolph’s senior core won 10 times in 2012 and earned a D-III tournament home game, only to get bounced in the first round.
Clout and confidence have played their roles returning the Ghosts to Burlington. Randolph has scored in double figures nine times now, including twice in the postseason, while riding the arms of Jickling and Sprague to three shutouts and 12 games where the opposition has scored three or fewer runs.
“We’ve been seeing this kind of pitching all year, so we’re really used to it,” said Randolph senior first baseman Zach LaPerle, who went 3-for-3 with one of the Ghosts’ three doubles. “We get the same thing every day in batting practice, just average fastballs right down the middle. Their pitcher did a really good job today, but our hitting was really on.”
The Blue Devils’ defense did starting pitcher Brett Kelly few favors, committing seven errors that contributed to seven unearned Randolph runs. What third-ranked Poultney (16-3) didn’t give, the Ghosts simply took.
Down 1-0 early, Randolph scored four times in the second inning and six more in the third to end the debate early. An error brought LaPerle home for the Ghosts’ first run, and back-to-back-to-back sacrifices from Nick Jickling (a bases-loaded bunt he beat out for a hit), Alex Gilbert (an RBI fly to right) and Brandon Keyes (a run-scoring suicide squeeze) built a 4-1 cushion.
Poultney’s wagon overturned in the third. LaPerle’s two-run double was the big blast, but two other four-year starters — Gilbert and Ben Jickling — also drove in runs.
“Our hitting improved immensely over the past year,” LaPerle said. “Last year, we couldn’t hit anything but, this year, we’re been hitting really well. It’s just because we have the right mind-set
“Last year, we were scared. This year, we really knocked it down.”
Randolph chased Kelly with a two-run fourth and greeted reliever Kevin Lilly with a two-run fifth. Czok pulled Jickling after four innings and just 69 pitches to preserve his availability for the title game and Sprague cleaned up, striking out the side in the Poulney sixth for three of his four Ks.
“I think a lot of people, a lot of our fans, expected us to go this far,” LaPerle said. “We definitely did. And we expect to take it.”
So it’s no wonder the Ghosts mobbed Sprague after he struck out Poultney’s Nick Petty to end the game. It’s the K that sent Randolph to Centennial Field.
After all, it’s been on the back of their minds all year.
Fungoes: The Ghosts’ other seniors also contributed to the victory. Mackenzie Poirier scored a run and drove in another, Gilbert finished with a team-best three RBIs and Jay Swartz scored once while pinch running for LaPerle, who had an ice pack strapped to his right hamstring after the game. … Yesterday marked Randolph’s first D-III semifinal appearance. The Ghosts joined the division in 2009. … Saturday appears to be the earliest possibility for the title game, but Czok said Tuesday may also be considered. Randolph’s graduation is Friday, while both of the schools the Ghosts could face in the finals — BFA-Fairfax and Leland & Gray — hold their commencements on Saturday at 10 a.m. The Vermont Principals Association should make the date and time official today. … The Ghosts must have something against Blue Devils. Yesterday’s win was the second in a row against a team of that nickname, following a quarterfinal defeat of Williamstown. … Randolph’s 12-2 rout of Winooski to open the postseason gave the Ghosts a measure of revenge on the Spartans, who upset them in last spring’s opening round.
Greg Fennell can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3226.