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An Olympian Rout: Oxbow Dismantles Leland & Gray for State Softball Crown

  • Oxbow’s Amanda Wheeler, right, and Marissa Ciurleo celebrate following their team’s victory over Leland & Gray to win the Vermont Division III softball championship last night in Poultney, Vt. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Oxbow’s Amanda Wheeler, right, and Marissa Ciurleo celebrate following their team’s victory over Leland & Gray to win the Vermont Division III softball championship last night in Poultney, Vt. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Oxbow’s Amanda Wheeler slides home for a run against Leland & Gray during the Vermont Division III softball championship game last night in Poultney, Vt. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Oxbow’s Amanda Wheeler slides home for a run against Leland & Gray during the Vermont Division III softball championship game last night in Poultney, Vt. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Oxbow’s Amanda Wheeler, right, and Marissa Ciurleo celebrate following their team’s victory over Leland & Gray to win the Vermont Division III softball championship last night in Poultney, Vt. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Oxbow’s Amanda Wheeler slides home for a run against Leland & Gray during the Vermont Division III softball championship game last night in Poultney, Vt. (Valley News - Libby March)

Poultney, Vt. — Always a team that loves to chant from the dugout, the Oxbow Union High softball team was reminded of an old favorite recently by Olympians alumnus Kaylee Greene: hit it, rip it, knock it around — Drive it! Drive it!

In last night’s Vermont Division III state championship game, that’s exactly what Oxbow did in a 15-1 rout of Leland & Gray at Veterans Memorial Park.

The six-ranked O’s (14-5) cranked out 11 hits while riding Leah Hanzas; two-hitter as they out-hustled, outworked and thoroughly outplayed the top-ranked Rebels (16-4).

“This team just really wanted it,” 21st-year Oxbow coach Robin Wozny said. “It’s not the most athletic team you’re going to find, but they do everything you ask them to, they play smart and they hit the ball.”

It’s the first state crown since 1996 for the Olympians, who dropped their last two games of the regular season to fall to No. 6 in the D-III standings, but found another gear in the playoffs. They mercy-ruled No. 11 Williamstown in the first round, 17-2, fended off upset-minded No. 14 Rice, 4-2, in the quarters and came back for an exciting, eight-inning win over No. 7 Enosburg in last week’s semifinal, 5-4.

Last night wasn’t nearly as close. Befuddling yet another opponent with smart baserunning, the O’s scored eight runs in the first four innings and added five more in the fifth to run away with it.

In the meantime, Hanzas (seven strikeouts, four walks) was effective utilizing a pitch she hadn’t turned to since early in the year — the rise ball.

“The kept whiffing at it, so I kept on throwing it,” said Hanzas, a junior who struck out 23 batters in the playoffs compared with eight walks.

Hanzas’ batterymate thought the O’s also had something less tangible working in their favor.

“Our chanting,” said catcher Heather White. “I thought it really rattled them.”

In a ritual Wozny said the team picked up years ago while watching Lyndon State College play, the Olympians shout phrases such as “I see a hole and (batter’s first name) is gonna find it!”, “B-A-T-T-L-E, battle for me baby!” and “Good eye, good eye, good eye — Ball!” from the dugout constantly while at bat.

Indeed, it seemed to perplex Leland & Gray pitcher Elizabeth Symanski (six walks, three strikeouts, five earned runs), who smiled uneasily while glancing toward the O’s dugout in the first inning and never found a rhythm.

“The (chant) that we did the most during the playoffs — hit it, rip it, knock it around — is one we kind of forgot about,” Hanzas said. “Kaylee Greene (a 2012 Oxbow graduate and former Olympian) came up before our first playoff game and said we had to bring it back, so we did.”

They brought it to the diamond, too, first taking control against the Rebels yesterday in the third inning. Hanzas had her first of three hits on the day with one out, and Holly Lund (2-for-5, RBI double) drove a first-pitch fast ball to left. White walked to load the bases for Cassie Hutchinson, whose deep fly ball to center field probably would have given Hanzas plenty of time to score from third if she had waited for the catch before leaving the bag.

Instead she was off on contact and was caught in a rundown, but danced around it and Symanski eventually dropped the ball trying for a swipe tag as the O’s went up 2-0.

That set off a string of miscues for the Rebels, who had seven errors and allowed five earned runs. Lund came home on a passed ball and White on an error to make it 4-0.

Oxbow piled it on in the fourth, with Hanzas, Lund and Hutchinson getting RBI hits and Hutchinson scoring on an error to make it 9-0.

“That was a critical sequence for us, because it was still competitive up to that point,” Wozny said. “We showed that we were going to hit the ball today.”

Five more came in the fifth, highlighted by White’s triple and a run on the same play when the relay throw from shortstop to home plate was off the mark.

In the seventh, leadoff hitter Amanda Wheeler (1-for-2, RBI) singled to left, went all the way from first to third on Shae Brammell’s bunt and stole home on a throw to first to make it 15-1 and accentuate another strong base running day by the Olympians.

“We practice running the bases a lot,” said White. “Obviously, it paid off.”

Extra Bases: Oxbow improved to 6-1 in state finals and bounced back from its only title-game setback, a 4-0 loss to Randolph on the same field three years ago. Leland & Gray fell to 0-2 in finals in their first appearance in one in 22 years. ... Oxbow outscored opponents by 100 runs this year, 183-83. ... The O’s were 4-for-4 on stolen base attempts last night and 18-for-21 over the last three playoff games. Hanzas is the daughter of Vermont state Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, D-Bradford.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.