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O’s Deal With Learning Curve

With New Faces in New Places, Oxbow Adjusts

  • Oxbow’s Cassie Hutchinson throws to first after fielding a ground ball during Oxbow’s game with Lyndon yesterday in Bradford, Vt. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Oxbow’s Cassie Hutchinson throws to first after fielding a ground ball during Oxbow’s game with Lyndon yesterday in Bradford, Vt. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Oxbow catcher Heather White gets a high-five from teammate Amanda Wheeler between innings. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Oxbow catcher Heather White gets a high-five from teammate Amanda Wheeler between innings. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Oxbow’s Cassie Hutchinson throws to first after fielding a ground ball during Oxbow’s game with Lyndon yesterday in Bradford, Vt. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Oxbow catcher Heather White gets a high-five from teammate Amanda Wheeler between innings. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Bradford, Vt. — The pitchers for both the Lyndon and Oxbow softball teams were thrust into starting roles after unexpected departures this season, but only the Vikings’ Kelsey Croft had much luck yesterday.

Lyndon’s starting catcher last year, Croft threw a six-inning one-hitter as the Vikings walloped the Olympians in Oxbow Union High’s home opener, 17-1.

The Olympians, who play in Vermont Division III, slipped to 1-1 while practically reversing Monday’s 18-1 win at Lamoille.

The Vikings, a perennial power who reached the D-II final last spring, improved to 3-0 with their third straight lopsided win to start the season.

Croft is filling in for former Lyndon ace Carys Potter, who transferred to neighboring St. Johnsbury Academy after leading the Vikings to a 16-4 record and a loss to BFA-Fairfax in the D-II title game.

In the opposing circle was Oxbow’s Leah Hanzas, a junior who last pitched as a full-time starter two years ago with Oxbow’s jayvee team.

After playing third base and backing up junior pitcher Cassandra Wallace last season, she moved to No. 1 in the circle this year after Wallace did not return.

Hanzaz threw only 43 balls in 137 pitches yesterday, striking out nine, but she was tagged for 16 hits and seven earned runs while throwing off the mark to first base to help usher in one of the Vikings’ 10 unearned runs on the day.

Croft, meanwhile, had near-perfect defense — her own off-the-mark throw to first helping score Oxbow’s only run — while walking just two and retiring the side in order twice.

“I found out in January that (Potter) was transferring and coach (Mike John) told me right away I was going to be the one to step in,” said Croft, who, like Hanzas, pitched for her jayvee team as a freshman. “I didn’t expect it, but it’s something I’m definitely getting into and embracing now.”

Hanzas is still working on building chemistry with batterymate Heather White, a senior who’d worked with Wallace for several years. White is one of four returning starters on an Oxbow team that went 13-4 and lost to Windsor in the D-III quarterfinals a year ago.

“The good thing about Leah is her work ethic. She put her time into it and wants to get better,” said 21st-year Oxbow coach Robin Wozny. “(Hanzas and White) are still getting used to each other because Leah has some warm-up routines and things that she never had to do with (Wallace), but as the year gets on, they’re going to get better.”

Oxbow will need to improve its defense, which fielded some routine ground balls poorly and failed to square up a number of catchable fly balls. Four of Lyndon’s first five runs came with honest production, but the floodgates opened with two outs in the third when errors at first base and shortstop helped the Vikings bat around and tally five unearned.

They scored two of four runs in the fourth inning on the same passed ball when the O’s couldn’t cover the plate in time to prevent the second run, then added two more on errors in the sixth.

“We were slow and just had too many mistakes,” Wozny said. “We do plenty of defensive drills (at practice), but I think some of the (mistakes) are just because of girls playing in different positions and new roles, and I expect that to get better.

“We didn’t have any errors against Lamoille. Today, we were expecting Lyndon to stroke the ball pretty good, but they got on a few times on little nubs that didn’t get out of the infield.”

Lyndon’s defense was conversely sharp, highlighted by shortstop Haillie Mesics’ diving stab to rob Amanda Hatch in the third inning. The Vikings didn’t misplay a fly ball and converted almost every infield opportunity, their only hiccup coming when Oxbow scored its lone run.

Facing a mercy-rule loss in the bottom of the fifth inning, Oxbow extended the battle after Amanda Wheeler drew a lead-off walk. Wheeler stole second, Amanda Hatch laid a bunt down the first base line, and Croft’s throw to first was slightly off the mark.

Lyndon first baseman Brandi Surridge trapped the ball in the dirt with her foot off the bag, recovering in time to erase Hatch. The the sequence gave a charging Wheeler just enough time to score all the way from second base and pull the O’s within 15-1, forcing a sixth inning.

“I liked some of the things I saw today, and that was one of them,” said Wozny. “We knew we needed a run to keep the game going, and Amanda Wheeler is aggressive on the bases, steals second and scores from second on a bunt. You have to be pretty good to score from second on a bunt.”

Extra Bases: Mesics (4-for-5, triple, double, four runs) and center fielder Emily Doty (4-for-4, three RBIs) had four hits each for the Vikings. ... The game was halted momentarily in the fourth inning as Wozny and the home plate umpire checked on White, who was shaken up while trying to block home plate. White stayed in the game and promptly picked off two Lyndon base runners to end the inning. ... Wheeler was called out attempting to steal third base in the second inning for the third out, but the home plate umpire reversed the call. Wheeler was stranded on the next pitch when Lyndon second baseman Zoe D’Olimpio snagged a line out.

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