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O’s Pack Bags to Final: Oxbow Outlasts Enosburg for That Long Trip to Poultney

  • Oxbow’s Cassie Hutchinson, background, and Amanda Wheeler hug on the field after the Olympians defeated Enosburg in extra innings yesterday in Bradford, Vt. Oxbow plays in the state championship in Poultney, Vt., on Sunday. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Oxbow’s Cassie Hutchinson, background, and Amanda Wheeler hug on the field after the Olympians defeated Enosburg in extra innings yesterday in Bradford, Vt. Oxbow plays in the state championship in Poultney, Vt., on Sunday. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Oxbow pitcher Leah Hanzas, left, and catcher Heather White give each other encouragement between innings during yesterday’s semifinal game against Enosburg in Bradford, Vt. Oxbow won in extra innings, 5-4. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Oxbow pitcher Leah Hanzas, left, and catcher Heather White give each other encouragement between innings during yesterday’s semifinal game against Enosburg in Bradford, Vt. Oxbow won in extra innings, 5-4. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Oxbow’s Cassie Hutchinson, background, and Amanda Wheeler hug on the field after the Olympians defeated Enosburg in extra innings yesterday in Bradford, Vt. Oxbow plays in the state championship in Poultney, Vt., on Sunday. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Oxbow pitcher Leah Hanzas, left, and catcher Heather White give each other encouragement between innings during yesterday’s semifinal game against Enosburg in Bradford, Vt. Oxbow won in extra innings, 5-4. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

Bradford, Vt. — Unlike a trip to venerable venues such as Barre Auditorium or Centennial Field, the site of Sunday’s Vermont Division III softball championship game — Poultney Elementary School — doesn’t elicit as much starry-eyed anticipation for teams punching their ticket there.

Oxbow is still happy to being going to Poultney after yesterday’s come-from-behind, 5-4 win over Enosburg in eight innings, even if some of the Olympians have never heard of it.

When O’s coach Robin Wozny mentioned the site during the post-game huddle, catcher Heather White replied, “Where the heck is that?”

It’s actually the same site as Oxbow’s D-III title-game loss to Randolph three years ago, but this year’s starting pitcher, Leah Hanzas, didn’t make the nearly 100-mile trip to the venue, nestled in a woodsy town southwest of Rutland.

“I probably had somewhere else to be,” said Hanzas, who was in eighth grade at the time. “It’s quite a trip.”

The O’s had few problems traveling yesterday, at least not along the base paths against the No. 7 Hornets (11-7).

Once again utilizing the aggressive baserunning that has produced runs throughout the season, the sixth-ranked Olympians (13-5) overcame a 4-3 deficit in the sixth to force extra innings, then cranked three of their five hits on the day against Hornets pitcher Emilee Bose (nine walks, eight strikeouts) in the eighth to win it.

Singles from Holly Lund and Cassie Hutchinson and a walk by Amanda Hatch left the bases loaded with two outs for junior third baseman Kasie Craig, who hit a one-hop liner at Enosburg shortstop Megan Bosley that gave the hard-charging Lund just enough time to score from third for the walk-off win.

Enosburg came in enthused after Saturday’s 8-3 upset win at No. 2 Richford.

“We were patient, took some walks and made (Bose) pitch to contact,” said Wozny, whose team will face top-seeded Leland & Gray on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. behind PES. “When you put the ball in play, that’s when good things happen.”

For the Olympians, that goes for almost whenever they get on base. While not quite as aggressive as during Friday’s 10-steal performance in a 4-2 quarterfinal win over Rice, the O’s baserunning still made life plenty difficult for the Hornets.

Oxbow’s five steals included White’s sixth-inning theft of home plate to tie the score, and Amanda Wheeler and Hanzas were quick to scamper home on first-inning wild pitches that staked the Olympians to an early lead.

“(Forceful baserunning) is definitely our trademark,” said Hanzas, who walked just one compared with six strikeouts. “We’ve watched other teams leave a lot of runs on the table because they don’t advance, but we know how to take advantage.”

Oxbow’s aggressive style may have cost the team in the seventh. After drawing a leadoff walk and getting to second on a bunt, Rachel Emerson was thrown out at third trying to advance on a ball blooped to shallow left for the second out.

Then Shaelyn Brammel, who’d reached on the fielder’s choice, was caught stealing to force extra innings.

“She actually wasn’t given the sign to go in that situation,” said Wozny. “That was miscommunication, and it bit us.”

The Olympians didn’t foil themselves early on, with Wheeler advancing all the way from first to third on Brammel’s bunt and Hanzas stealing both second and third in the first inning. Wheeler and Hanzas each came home on wild pitchers to make it 2-1.

The Hornets tied it in the top of the second on three singles, the last a run-scoring, infield hit by McKenzie Gleason.

Amanda Hatch regained the lead for Oxbow in the home half of the second after drawing a leadoff walk and reaching second on bunt from Amber Hatch. Unfazed while later caught in a rundown between second and third, Amanda Hatch eluded the Enosberg fielders and came home on Hornet second baseman Kylie Bryce’s overthrow to make it 3-2.

Enosburg scored two runs on four hits in the top of the third, going ahead 4-3 while Bose settled in and retired 11 of 12 Oxbow batters from the third to sixth innings.

Bose came unglued with two outs in the sixth, walking White before a wild pitch put her at second. Another wild pitch came on ball four to Hutchinson, sending White to third. Hutchinson broke for second on the play, drawing a throw from Hornets’ catcher Shania Gokey and allowing White to race home for the tying run.

“(Breaking for second on a walk) is something we practice a lot and something that we’re confident executing,” said Wozny. “We have enough confidence in that to do it in that situation.”

Hanzas, a first-year starter, gave up all 10 hits in the first four-plus innings before retiring 11 of the last 13 batters she faced, the only two Enosburg runners during that span reaching on an error and a fielder’s choice.

Hanzas is excited to be going to the state final, even if it will be her first — and perhaps only — visit to Poultney.

“After we beat Randolph (May 21), I knew we could get here,” she said. “We’ve been playing with a lot of confidence since then, and that’s how we’ll have to play (Sunday).”

Extra Bases: It was the teams’ first postseason meeting since Oxbow’s 5-0 win in the 1996 state championship game. ... Bosley (2-for-3, two runs) Whitney Lavallee (2-for-4, RBI triple) and Bose (2-for-3) all had strong days for Enosburg, which was 8-3 against D-III teams this year. Four of the Hornets’ six losses in the regular season were against D-II opponents. ... Oxbow improved to 4-2 in one-run games this year and 8-3 at home. ... It was the O’s first home game in the semifinals since they were also the No. 6 seed in 2008. They were upset by No. 15 Peoples, which went on to lose to Enosburg.

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

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