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Oxbow Softball Cruises Past Windsor to Advance

Bradford, Vt. — When it comes to winning dirty, the Oxbow Union High softball team has become downright filthy.

An explanation: Influenced by what she witnessed on a spring trip to Long Island last year, longtime Oxbow coach Robin Wozny instituted a system of play she now calls “dirty ball.” Anyone scouting the Olympians for a defense to their ways generally doesn’t have to worry about being bludgeoned into submission; as the second-ranked O’s showed in a 7-1 defeat of No. 7 Windsor in Friday’s Vermont Division III quarterfinals, they’re perfectly happy getting dirty — bunting for hits, stealing bases with alacrity — if it gets them where they want to go.

At this rate, that could be another D-III title. Oxbow went 14-5 in claiming last year’s crown. They’re 16-1 after Friday’s win, mixing eight hits, 10 stolen bases and a handful of wild pitches and passed balls into a tasty recipe for success.

“We started playing this game last year and we were very successful with it,” Wozny said. “We went to the championship with it. And we’ve continued it this year.”

Windsor coach Phil Hathorn did his best to prepare his young Yellowjackets (9-8) for Oxbow’s high-pressure ways. In fact, the Jacks handled it reasonably well, committing just one error.

Even with Windsor’s Division II-caliber Marble Valley League schedule, however, the Olympians’ ways proved difficult to stop.

“I think our tougher schedule this year made us more prepared for playoffs,” Hathorn said. “My defense is solid. We made plays. We made a couple of errors today that they took advantage of.”

Spring trips are a common thing for the O’s; Wozny uses them for bonding while also exposing her team to a higher level of play by attending college contests.

The 2013 trip to Long Island included checking out a contest at Hofstra University, where Oxbow saw the Pride use softball’s short game to success. Wozny installed a version of it last spring; an .833 winning percentage since would indicate it’s working.

Exhibit A: Oxbow’s Shae Brammell put the first run on the board in the bottom of the first inning without the ball leaving the infield. The junior bunted to the third-base side of the diamond and stole two bases, the latter after Leah Hanzas reached with a walk. When Hanzas snatched second, Brammell raced home on the throw for a 1-0 lead.

Brammell went a little deeper in the third. Kasie Craig singled and Amanda Wheeler bunted for a hit to bring up the Oxbow center fielder, who launched an RBI double to left that plated Craig and sent Wheeler to third base — from which, in typical fashion, she stole home for a 3-0 cushion.

“We were having a hard time hitting the ball, to be honest with you, against some fast pitchers,” Wozny said. “We’ve been taking team trips for seven or eight years. The last couple of years we’ve incorporated a college visit and watching a team play. We took it from Hofstra, watched them play small ball and said, ‘We can do that.’ ”

Emily Anderson’s RBI sac fly brought home Emily Williams in the top of the fourth as Windsor scratched back one run. Small-ball Oxbow took it from there, scoring three in the home fourth and one in the fifth to take control.

A Bekah Hanzas walk, a Jamie Stevens hit batter and a Craig sac bunt prefaced a Wheeler RBI single to left in the fourth. A throwing error on a Brammell sac bunt brought in two more runs. Kaleigh Trojanowski netted Oxbow’s final run in the fifth, again a little at a time: Infield single, wild pitch, passed ball, swipe of home on the back end of a double steal.

Leah Hanzas kept things in check, holding Windsor to five hits with a walk, a hit batter and three strikeouts. The improving Ashley Bly took the loss for the Jacks, fanning seven and walking two.

Oxbow will host a semifinal on Tuesday against either No. 11 Peoples or No. 3 Richford, who are scheduled to play their quarterfinal this afternoon.

It’s no dirty secret how the O’s will approach that contest.

“It’s keeping the pressure on,” Wozny said. “These girls came in with a formula, and they’ve worked hard. They see what that type of game can do for them.”

Fungoes: Wheeler went 3-for-4 to lead the Oxbow attack. The junior was also the only Olympian cut down on a stolen-base attempt, taken out by Windsor catcher Katey Comstock’s perfect throw to second baseman Mariah Marsh in the sixth. … Brammell also made two good running catches to strand a Windsor baserunner in the top of the sixth. … Marsh, Bly, Williams, Ashleay Wilcox and Brianna Wright accounted for the Jacks’ five hits. “At our parents meeting at the end of the (2013) season, I said 6-10 I’d be happy with, 8-8 would be a real reach,” Hathorn said. “To finish (9-8) and lose to the defending state champs in the quarterfinals, I’m ecstatic.” … Windsor loses just one graduate in Marsh. … Sophomore Comstock has a date at the Vermont Division II state track and field meet this morning at Fair Haven Union High School. She enters as the top seed in the discus and javelin and the second seed in the shot put behind U-32’s Liz Ksepka. Comstock is the defending champ in the shot and discus.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.