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South Royalton’s Baseball Season Ends in Shocking Fashion

Poultney, Vt. — Seeing that the tiny town of Poultney appears to lack an Elm Street, terming the South Royalton School baseball team’s ouster from the Vermont Division III tournament the Nightmare on East Main will have to suffice.

Tuesday’s 19-0 semifinal decimation at the hands, arms, feet, legs, gloves and bats of second-seeded Poultney came quickly. After the third-ranked Royals (16-3) stranded a baserunner in scoring position in the top of the first inning, the Blue Devils (16-2) sent 18 batters to the plate and scored 13 of them in the bottom half on a rash of base hits, walks and SoRo errors both physical and mental.

If a South Royalton pitch could miss the plate, it did. If a Poultney ground ball could bounce over a waiting infielder’s glove, it did. If the mundane could turn complicated, it did. The confluence resulted in the Royals’ most lopsided loss in their 87-game Vermont Principals Association baseball tournament history, dating back to 1973.

“We’re much better than that,” South Royalton coach Mike Ballou said. “Maybe we were nervous; maybe we weren’t. We just didn’t get it done today. If we played them in a five-game series, it would still be tough in the end.”

Poultney made it easy for starting pitcher Sean Shepardson, who nonetheless limited the Royals to one hit over four innings. The Blue Devils’ batters bedeviled four South Royalton pitchers for nine hits, eight walks, three hit batsmen and 11 unearned runs, securing a trip to this weekend’s state final after 4½ innings via the state’s 10-run rule.

“We’re shocked; we had no idea,” seventh-year Poultney coach Dan Williams said. “That was a total surprise. If we’d have scripted that, we couldn’t have gotten a better start.”

Ballou had his team playing typical South Royalton baseball at the outset, even if it didn’t net an early run. Nate Moore blooped a single to right, moving to third on a Leif Johnson sacrifice bunt and a stolen base. Shepardson wiggled out of the jam, fanning David Ballou and getting Hunter Brock to pop out to second.

From there, it took just 29 pitches to irreversibly end South Royalton’s postseason.

Getting the mound start, Johnson struggled to locate the strike zone. Four of the nine Blue Devils the senior faced walked, two with the bases loaded. Shepardson and Alex Field contributed run-scoring singles before Mike Ballou swapped Johnson for junior Darrin Kennedy, who didn’t fare much better.

By the time the first frame was done, seven Poultney hits and five walks fused with four SoRo errors (out of a game total of eight) for a 13-run howdy-do of a start that only one previous South Royalton playoff game surpassed.

“I’m not going to make excuses — they hit the ball,” Ballou said. “They get the credit.”

The Blue Devils tacked on six more runs in the second to end what little drama remained. Four different Poultney players scored three times on the afternoon, and Shepardson joined left fielder Zach Constantine in the two-hit department.

On the positive side for the visitors, the lopsided nature of the game allowed Ballou to substitute freely, perhaps giving a taste of the Royals’ future. Freshmen Nick Howe and Justin Brock both tossed scoreless innings, with Brock fanning the side in he fourth. Many of those fresh faces will probably reappear on this summer’s Post 51 American Legion team.

South Royalton built a hefty win-loss mark despite moving up a division after winning last year’s D-IV title. Williams knew little of the Royals, noting only that both had lost to D-II semifinalist Woodstock in the regular campaign.

“We got some scores from the computer; that was it,” Williams said. “Their games were the same as ours. We just had to take whatever we got, and today we were on the lucky side.”

Or prescient. After all, it was Williams’ dugout that bore the following sign: “2014 — There Is NO Place Like Home.”

For South Royalton, it was just a haunted house.

Fungoes: Sophomore Nils Rupprecht, an exchange student from Germany, provided South Royalton’s only other hit, a single up the middle in the fifth off Poultney’s Brett Kelley. It was just the second hit of the year and the first to leave the infield for Rupprecht, who spent most of the season on the SoRo junior varsity. “He’d never even touched a glove when he came to practice,” Ballou said. “First indoor practice, David showed him how to hold a glove, how to catch a ball. He’s improved a lot. He catches balls; he puts balls in play. He just has a good time, which is what it’s supposed to be.” … Poultney will meet No. 1 BFA-Fairfax, a 2-1 winner over No. 5 Peoples, in the state finals. The Blue Devils are seeking their first state baseball crown since 1992. … South Royalton graduates Johnson, Brock, Moore, Alex Berk and David Ballou, who will be entering Dartmouth College in the fall.

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