Woodstock Hopes the Real Wasps Will Stand Up
Woodstock High first baseman Conor Joyce lunges to tag Windsor runner Josh Moore during the teams' nonleague game Friday at Woodstock. The visiting Yellowjackets won, 6-4. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »
Woodstock High runner Zach Cole slides into second base safely while Windsor shortstop Tyson Boudro reaches for a low throw. Yellowjackets second baseman Connor Gould is in the background. Visiting Windsor won, 6-4. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »
Woodstock — The Woodstock Union High school baseball team’s stretch run flashed past this week, with four games crammed into three days, including Friday’s 6-4 loss to visiting Windsor. The Wasps split that quartet of contests and finished the season 12-4 after a 10-0 start, but ready or not, the Vermont Division II playoffs begin early next week.
Is Woodstock the dynamic bunch which shot out of the gate, or the frustrated and fatigued group that won only two of its last six contests? Wasps senior Zach Cole isn’t sure, but he thinks his team has a chance to regain its positive form with a little time away from the diamond.
“We’ve been playing sloppy baseball at times,” Cole said. “We’ve made fielding and baserunning errors and when we’ve lost games, we didn’t deserve to win them, mostly.
“Hopefully, this weekend, kids can just kind of vegetate and maybe work around the house a little bit and take their minds off of baseball and relax and heal up. Baseball is such a mental sport and we’re mentally tired.”
Woodstock, which 14th-year coach Jason Tarleton expects to earn the No. 5 seed out of 15 playoff teams in the division, lost its first game of the season at Mount St. Joseph by a run on May 19. Two days later, the Wasps suffered an eight-run setback at Bellows Falls and infighting arose.
“That first (loss), when it started to go downhill, there were fingers being pointed,” said Cole, one of his team’s seven seniors, who combine with seven freshmen to comprise the roster. “The team just tore itself apart and I’m standing out there playing third base and telling everyone to shut up. Then it happened again at Bellows Falls and I was ready to rip someone’s head off.
“We didn’t play for a week, because of the rain, so we had time off to cool down and when we did practice, it was indoors and we made it fun. We had really stopped having fun and that made us tight and we didn’t play like we should have been.”
Said Tarleton: “This is a team of (successful) football players, but you can’t just smack someone in the head and tell them to toughen up in baseball. You have to be mentally composed. We have intensely competitive kids with high expectations and that’s where some of the tension comes from.”
Woodstock returned to action with a 12-hour baseball odyssey on Wednesday. The team left school at 11 a.m. and rode a bus to Wilmington, Vt., to play Twin Valley, where it won 9-3. After chugging back, the Wasps beat Springfield, 15-1, that night. The next day brought a trip to Poultney and an agonizing, one-run loss in the bottom of the seventh inning. Friday, the jam-packed action continued with the Windsor game, a contest the hosts trailed 6-1 after five innings before bringing the winning run to the plate in the seventh.
The Wasps’ top three pitchers, Conor Joyce, Matt Poljacik and Cole, each threw complete games during the week’s first three games, so Tarleton sent usual first baseman Bradley Lewis to the mound. Lewis had thrown all of one inning this season, but he lasted five frames and Windsor’s nine-hit attack wasn’t out of control.
“We had to come up with something and that was the something,” Tarleton said. “Let’s play some ball and take our chances at outhitting the other team.”
The hosts managed only four hits, but took advantage of walks and errors to make the nonleague game close. Windsor was led by Tyson Boudro, who had three hits and two RBIs.
Woodstock would have preferred to enter the playoffs on a winning streak, but of more pressing, long-term concern is how the program will fare in coming years. There were only 12 Wasps last season, which ended with a 6-11 record, and Tarleton expects only three or four freshmen candidates next spring. Cole said there were more than enough baseball players to go around the likes of Pomfret, Bridgewater and Woodstock when he began playing in elementary school, but that depth has withered over the years.
“Baseball’s disappearing from this school and I don’t have an answer for why,” he said.
Cole and Tarleton noted the track team has more than 60 co-ed competitors, as does lacrosse. Throw in golf, tennis and even rock climbing and the supply of spring athletes at a school of roughly 400 students and with a declining enrollment is thoroughly picked over.
“We’re a Division II school, but we offer a Division I range of programs, everything under the sun,” Tarleton said. “But another factor is that baseball doesn’t seem to be something kids do in their free time anymore. They don’t just go outside and play catch. More than ever, that’s becoming an issue.
“Our middle school program has 12 kids and only four of them had previous baseball experience. Most of them had never really played catch before this season.”
For now, the Wasps can only try to play their best at the most crucial time and hope a postseason run might spark more participation. It’s been years since the team hosted a home playoff game, but Cole doesn’t want his teammates to be satisfied with that accomplishment. Woodstock has also clinched at least a tie for the Marble Valley League title, something it’s never before done under Tarleton.
“I can hang my hat on a pretty good season so far, but I’d much rather hang it on a championship,” Cole said. “The past few years, we’ve gone up against one of the top four seeds in the first round and there’s no way mentally, you’re ready to play those kids. This year, we know we can compete with any team. It just depends on whether we come to play or not.”
Notes: Windsor is 5-9… Tarleton is scheduled to compete in today’s 30-mile peak race in Pittsfield, Vt., which begins at 6 a.m. and lasts 24 hours… Cole plans to enter the Marine Corps this summer… Wasps senior shortstop Doug Avellino, also a basketball standout, plans to attend Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. The Leopards were 12-15 in basketball and 15-18 in baseball this year.
Tris Wykes can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3227.