Oxbow Brings the Bats

  • Oxbow High School senior Mary Bourgeois slides safely into home during a game against Fairfax in Bradford, VT on Saturday, April 22, 2017. Copyright 2017 Rob Strong

  • Oxbow High School sophomore Madison Fornwalt huddles with teammates and coaches during a game against Fairfax in Bradford, VT on Saturday, April 22, 2017. Copyright 2017 Rob Strong

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, April 22, 2017

Bradford, Vt. — It took a while for Oxbow High’s dangerous softball lineup to figure out BFA-Fairfax sophomore pitcher Bridget Hamel. When the Olympians finally did, Saturday morning’s game at Oxbow High resembled a carousel more than the nail-biter foreshadowed in the first few innings.

Sophomore starter Madison Fornwalt gave up only one hit and one walk in six innings of work for Oxbow, and struck out 12 as the O’s trounced VPA Division II’s BFA-Fairfax 17-0 in 6⅔ innings in their season opener. Vermont’s mercy rule — a 15-run lead after five innings — was applied midway through the bottom of the sixth, when Oxbow scored 10 runs.

Oxbow scored a combined 16 runs in the fifth and sixth innings on Saturday. Mary Bourgeois ended the game early with a home run into deep right-center field that brought home Alex Giesing and Brittany Brocar.

It was the kind of performance that was expected from a team with championship aspirations, a year after winning 18 straight games in the regular season and playoffs before falling to three-time champ Richford in the final. Much of coach Robin Wozny’s squad has returned from last season, including the two-headed pitching duo of youngster Fornwalt and veteran Bourgeois. Though Fornwalt was given the season opener, Wozny said she planned to use both pitchers equally this season.

BFA-Fairfax coach Geri-Lyn Witalec recognizes a gluttony of pitchers when she sees one, and understands all too well the strategy of using multiple pitchers to keep arms healthy. For many years, the Bullets dominated VPA Division II with a string of talented hurlers. The fact that Witalec’s group was stymied by one on Saturday was a fitting bit of irony.

“We’ve been riding the coattails of some extremely dominant pitching that’s led to a lot of success,” Witalec said. “Now, we have multiple pitchers, but they’re all pitchers that batters can hit. … The pattern that we’re seeing, we can do great through five innings, and then we know, once batters are getting around the third part of the order, they’re going to start making contact. We just have to clean it up defensively.”

Hamel threw well for BFA (1-2) through four innings, allowing only four hits and one run against Oxbow’s dominant lineup. The O’s broke the scoreless tie with two outs in the bottom of the third thanks to a Bourgeois triple followed by a Bailee Wheeler single. The Olympians left runners on third base in the first and fourth innings.

“I think we might have been a little bit nervous because it was our first game, and because (BFA) is D-II and we hadn’t seen them before,” Fornwalt said. “I think (the turning point) was one of Mary’s hits. I think that really sparked everybody up and showed everybody that it was possible.”

Added Wozny: “Mary kind of broke us open with that triple, and with two outs, Bailee did a good job following up to get that first run in. That was important for us to kind of break the ice.”

The game unraveled for Hamel in the fifth, as Oxbow found its offensive groove and BFA’s defense showed its inexperience. Kaysea Neil, Brocar, Bourgeois, Wheeler, Fornwalt and Kayleigh Trojanowski all scored off three hits and four errors committed by the Bullets’ defense.

In the sixth, Bourgeois and Fornwalt each blasted home runs as the O’s amassed five hits and benefited from four walks and an error.

Bourgeois finished with four hits, four runs scored, three RBIs and two stolen bases. Wozny said she was pleased with the way her team figured things out late.

“Offensively, we had to see a round or two, but they came out ready to hit,” Wozny said. “When you put the ball in play, good things happen.”

It’s hard to imagine a better athletic scenario for Fornwalt than the one she’s living through this spring. Bourgeois’ presence allows her to split time in the circle, which not only takes the pressure off, but also allows the sophomore to develop at her own pace.

The team’s defense is stingy and disciplined, thanks to the mindset Wozny, a 25-year veteran, has established. Because of that, all Fornwalt has known is success after the O’s went undefeated in the regular season her freshman year.

Last year’s championship game, a 3-1 pitchers duel, changed that. Fornwalt said it helped her realize an important lesson: that winning streaks and success doesn’t come without focus and an attention to detail.

“We’re hungry. We want it now,” Fornwalt said. “Last year, we didn’t really know what it was like to lose. We didn’t really know what was happening until it happened. … I feel like now we have to be aware that (a loss) possible. We have to be on our toes more.”

Bourgeois will get her first start of the spring on Tuesday, when Oxbow hosts Lyndon.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.