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South Royalton Baseball Keeps Rolling

  • A lazy flip from South Royalton second baseman Darrin Kennedy to shortstop David Ballou allow's Thetford's Nolan Howard to tag safely onto the base during South Royalton's win in Thetford, Vt. Thursday, May, 29, 2014.  <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    A lazy flip from South Royalton second baseman Darrin Kennedy to shortstop David Ballou allow's Thetford's Nolan Howard to tag safely onto the base during South Royalton's win in Thetford, Vt. Thursday, May, 29, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nolan Howard of Thetford Academy leads off down the second base line as South Royalton pitcher Nathan Moore commits during their game in Thetford, Vt. Thursday, May, 29, 2014. South Royalton won. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Nolan Howard of Thetford Academy leads off down the second base line as South Royalton pitcher Nathan Moore commits during their game in Thetford, Vt. Thursday, May, 29, 2014. South Royalton won.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford pitcher Nolan Howard loses the ball after tagging Jayson Perron of South Royalton on his sprint for the plate during their game at Thetford Academy Thursday, May, 29, 2014. Perron was ruled out after failing to tag home base.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Thetford pitcher Nolan Howard loses the ball after tagging Jayson Perron of South Royalton on his sprint for the plate during their game at Thetford Academy Thursday, May, 29, 2014. Perron was ruled out after failing to tag home base.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • A lazy flip from South Royalton second baseman Darrin Kennedy to shortstop David Ballou allow's Thetford's Nolan Howard to tag safely onto the base during South Royalton's win in Thetford, Vt. Thursday, May, 29, 2014.  <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Nolan Howard of Thetford Academy leads off down the second base line as South Royalton pitcher Nathan Moore commits during their game in Thetford, Vt. Thursday, May, 29, 2014. South Royalton won. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Thetford pitcher Nolan Howard loses the ball after tagging Jayson Perron of South Royalton on his sprint for the plate during their game at Thetford Academy Thursday, May, 29, 2014. Perron was ruled out after failing to tag home base.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Thetford — After Thursday’s 8-1 win at Thetford Academy, the South Royalton School baseball team is 13-2 and beating opponents by an average score of 11-3. Last year’s VPA Division IV champion returned six starters and five core seniors, and all of the Royals’ starting nine are batting at least .312, according to coach Mike Ballou. Yet South Royalton, which moved up to D-III this season, is still searching for the level of cohesiveness unique to championship-caliber teams.

“We’re doing what we have to to succeed,” said Ballou. “We’re running the bases well, we’re bunting the ball, we’re scoring runs. Sometimes, though, we’re still standing around too much in between pitches. We had (two seventh inning errors) today, and I tell the guys that if you move around and keep your head in the game, you’re less likely to bobble it. We’re getting there, but we’re still working on some things.”

With solid numbers and a healthy jayvee program — something the Panthers can’t boast — the Royals have 14 newcomers, six of whom saw action during Thursday’s win. Freshman DH Steven Paige went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs, while classmate Nick Howe had an outstanding throw from center field to throw out Thetford’s Nolan Howard at home to end the fourth inning. Another freshman, Jayson Perron, stole a base and scored as a pinch runner in the third inning, although he was eventually caught in a pickle between third and home and called out for leaving the base path.

South Royalton ace pitcher Nate Moore thinks the team is still trying to jell the way last year’s team did on the way to the their 17-1 season and the D-IV crown.

“I mean, it’s hard to compare the teams because we have so many young guys this year,” the senior said. “Right now, we’re still trying to find the next level, but we’re getting better and better.”

Moore had an outstanding day on the mound, throwing 82 of 106 pitches for strikes in a complete game. He allowed six hits and no earned runs while walking one, hitting one batter and striking out 10. Even with that stellar line, the fiery senior graded himself a “B-minus” following the win.

“I was hitting my spots and my curve ball was decent, but I was too predictable with (two-strike fastballs). Overall, I’d say I was just alright,” Moore said.

Asked if his player was being too hard on himself, Ballou answered quickly, “No.”

“We’ve talked about not doing the same thing over and over, and he kept throwing to the exact same spot on 0-2 pitches,” the coach said. “(Thetford) got a couple of pretty good hits off of him. They play in a tough league (the D-II infused Capital League) and they’re better than their record might suggest.”

The Royals had to be happy with their baserunning, going 12-for-13 on stolen base attempts and advancing on two wild pitches, two passed balls, a bunt and a sacrifice fly.

“That’s our game, that’s what gets us going, being aggressive” Ballou said. “We’re always looking to advance.”

The Royals scored two off of Panthers’ starter Henry Nichols in the second inning, first when first baseman Keanan Thompson reached on a fielder’s choice and stole two bases before scoring on Paige’s plunk into shallow right. Paige also stole second before coming home on a throwing error.

South Royalton added three in the fourth off of reliever Nolan Howard, with Thompson (lead-off walk) scoring on Paige’s infield single, Paige advancing on a passed ball and a steal and scoring on Moore’s bunt single, and Moore stealing two before coming in on an RBI groundout from Leif Johnson to make it 5-0.

Thetford had a chance to get on the board in the bottom of the fourth after Howard singled up the middle and went to second on Jack Sweet’s hit to left. On Jordan Eastman’s deep hit to center field, Howard chugged around third and headed home, but Howe showed great arm strength to fire it in on a rope to catcher Alex Berk, who cut off the runner and easily tagged Howard out to end the inning.

Thompson helped pad South Royalton’s lead in the fifth, leading off with a double to center field and stealing third before scoring on a balk called against the Panthers’ second reliever, Matt Sonnhalter. The Royals got two more in the sixth off Thetford’s Jon Blakeney, tagging the freshman for three hits. David Ballou (1-for-2, two walks) singled to left, stole second, advanced on Hunter Brock’s sacrifice fly and scored on Berk’s base hit up the middle. Berk later scored on an infield single from Thompson.

After South Royalton went down quietly in the seventh, Moore retired the side in seven pitches to end it.

“We’ve faced pitchers better than (Moore) this season — a couple of guys from Harwood come to mind — but he’s definitely an effective pitcher,” said third-year Thetford coach Phil Chaput. “We did a lot of things that hurt ourselves, and a team like South Royalton is going to take advantage.”

The Panthers finished with just four regular-season wins for the third straight year since returning from a jayvee-only schedule in 2011. They haven’t had enough numbers for a jayvee team since returning to varsity play, though Chaput is optimistic thanks to increased participation at the youth level.

“We had 18 guys on the middle school team this year, which is encouraging,” said Chaput, a former Lewiston (Maine) High School player. “We’re hoping to have enough for a jayvee team next year, because it’s hard for a lot of guys to make that jump from middle school to varsity.”

Extra Bases: Thetford recognized its five seniors — Jordan Eastman, Colby Richardson, Henry Nichols, Jeremy Bauer and Wyatt Ulman — prior to the game. Panthers’ athletic director Jade Huntington also acknowledged South Royalton’s five seniors by name. ... Thetford’s Blakeney is a Tunbridge resident who played youth baseball with some of the Royals. ... South Royalton’s Moore and Thetford’s Howard had choice words for each other after Howard was thrown out at home in the fourth inning. Moore had been backing up the throw on the play.

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