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Richford Denies Oxbow a Softball Repeat

  • Bekah Hanzas, right, reassures her sister, pitcher Leah Hazas, by giving her hand a squeeze in the last inning of the Richford at Oxbow softball semifinal in Bradford, Vt., on June 10, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Bekah Hanzas, right, reassures her sister, pitcher Leah Hazas, by giving her hand a squeeze in the last inning of the Richford at Oxbow softball semifinal in Bradford, Vt., on June 10, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

  • Oxbow's Cassie Hutchinson sprints to first during the Richford at Oxbow softball semifinal in Bradford, Vt., on June 10, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Oxbow's Cassie Hutchinson sprints to first during the Richford at Oxbow softball semifinal in Bradford, Vt., on June 10, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

  • Bekah Hanzas, right, reassures her sister, pitcher Leah Hazas, by giving her hand a squeeze in the last inning of the Richford at Oxbow softball semifinal in Bradford, Vt., on June 10, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Oxbow's Cassie Hutchinson sprints to first during the Richford at Oxbow softball semifinal in Bradford, Vt., on June 10, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Bradford, Vt. — The success of the Oxbow Union High softball depends largely on its ability to take advantage of opponents’ mistakes. In Tuesday’s 6-3 VPA Division III semifinal loss to Richford, it was the Olympians’ own uncharacteristic miscues that led to defeat.

No. 2 Oxbow (16-2) had three costly errors spanning the third and fourth innings, allowing the third-ranked Rockets (15-2) to build a 6-0 lead. The O’s cut it in half in the seventh inning, but couldn’t finish the rally as Richford moved on to the D-III title game at Poultney Elementary School (date and time to be announced). The Rockets will face top-ranked Green Mountain, which beat No. 5 Enosburg Falls on Tuesday, 11-5.

After stealing 10 bases in Friday’s quarterfinal win over Windsor, defending champion Oxbow had just one steal and reached base only four times through the first six innings against Richford. The O’s struggled to respond after allowing five runs, two earned, in the third inning and allowing another unearned run to come across in the fourth.

“Once you get down by more than a couple (of) runs, it’s hard to play small ball and that’s our game,” Olympians coach Robin Wozny said. “We actually played a pretty good defensive game besides that third inning, but we got taken out of our game, and you have to give Richford credit. Offensively, we couldn’t find the holes. We’d hit the ball deep, but we’d hit it right at (a defender).”

The Rockets’ defense was outstanding, going 12-for-12 on fly-ball putout opportunities as sophomore pitcher Alexandria Benoit gave up just five hits despite registering only one strikeout. Richford did commit three infield errors, but only one led to an Oxbow run.

The best example of the Rockets’ resiliency came in the bottom of the fourth, when senior second baseman Cassie Sheltra threw off-target to allow Cassie Hutchinson to reach first base. Sheltran snagged the next two balls hit her way on lineouts, then got an assist for out No. 3 as Oxbow went down quietly.

“We played solid defense today, and that’s been a characteristic of this team all season,” 11th-year Richford coach Jen Gross said. “The outfield was solid, Alex was strong in the circle and our catcher (Amanda Cunningham) did a good job holding the runners when they did get girls on base.”

The Rockets batted around in the third inning, when Morgan McAllister led off with a single and scored on Hannah Gleason’s single to left.

Erika Snider issued Richford’s third straight hit, but was later gunned down at home plate by Oxbow third baseman Kasie Craig. The Rockets still ended up scoring a run on the play when catcher Heather White’s follow-up throw to first went wild. That set up a two-run single by Cunningham, who later scored on second baseman Amanda Wheeler’s errant throw to make it 5-0.

“It’s really just not like us,” said O’s pitcher Leah Hanzas (nine hits, three walks, three strikeouts) of her team’s costly third-inning miscues. “We don’t usually let other teams build off of our errors. Usually, we might just have one error and then make three or four really good (defensive plays) in a row after that. So it was kind of the opposite of what we’re used to.”

Richford added an unearned run in the fourth after Melissa Hango, trying to stretch her double into a triple, reached third on Craig’s drop during a swipe tag attempt. One batter later, Sarah Doe’s sacrifice fly gave the Rockets a 6-0 lead.

The Olympians settled in to retire 10 of Richford’s final 12 batters, and the two who reached base were stranded at second.

Oxbow rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh, when Bekah Hanzas led off with a single and later scored on an error from shortstop McAllister. Craig, who’d reached on McAllister’s miscue, scored on a two-out triple by Shae Brammell. Brammell scored on a passed ball to make it 6-3, but Benoit induced a Leah Hanzas groundout to end it.

“Once we settled in, we did a good job today,” Leah Hanzas said. “It was a really good season. In some ways, it was better than last year for me, just in terms of the friendships on the team and things like that. Unfortunately, we didn’t have as good an ending as last year.”

Extra Bases: It was the team’s first playoff meeting since a 1996 D-III quarterfinal, won by the Olympians 15-13 on the way to their fifth state title. ... The Rockets are 0-5 in championship games since winning the D-IV crown in 1981. ... Brammell had a diving catch in center field for Oxbow to end the top of the sixth inning. ... Oxbow graduates batterymates Leah Hanzas and White, along with HelenMae Stevens-Metcalf, Michaela Erno, Hutchinson, Craig, Sadie LaPlante and Kristen Morrison. ... Richford has outscored opponents an eye-popping 232-41 this season, its only losses coming against undefeated BFA-Fairfax (18-0), of Division II.

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