Oxbow Wins for Wizardly Coach ‘Woz’

  • Oxbow senior Mary Bourgeois pitched six strong innings and added a leadoff home run in the D3 Vermont softball final in Poultney on Saturday. Oxbow defeat Leland & Gray by a score of 11-2. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio)

  • Oxbow catcher Bailee Wheeler points out to Sara Walker who drove her in during the D3 Vermont softball final in Poultney on Saturday. Oxbow went on to defeat Leland & Gray by a score of 11-2. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio)

  • Oxbow sophmore Madison Fornwalt took over pitching duties in the seventh inning of the Vermont D3 softball final in Poultney on Saturday. Oxbow went on to defeat Leland & Gray by a score of 11-2. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio)

  • Oxbow senior Sara Walker hugs head coach Robin Wozny as teammates celebrate after the final out of Vermont Division III softball final in Poultney on Saturday. Oxbow defeated Leland & Gray by a score of 11-2 to complete an undefeated season. (Photo by Ben DeFlorio)

Valley News Sports Editor
Saturday, June 10, 2017

Poultney, Vt. — She’s used to being called Woz over three decades of coaching, but she’s been hearing Mom from her players a little more this spring. Now that softball’s done, however, it’s time for Robin Wozny to honor a more important title: wife.

Wozny left Oxbow High softball on Saturday bearing another label — champion — after watching her top-seeded Olympians systematically put away No. 2 Leland & Gray, 11-2, in the Vermont Division III softball final at Legion Field.

Mary Bourgeois sent the game’s fourth pitch over the center-field wall for a home run, Maddie Fornwalt followed with two taters of her own and the two combined in the circle for a win to cap their coach’s career.

Wozny guided Oxbow to its seventh state softball crown in school history and third of her tenure while her husband, Tom, is hospitalized with diabetes and other ailments.

“It’s time; my family needs me,” Wozny said as the smiling Olympians congregated with family members on the infield dirt. “My husband (Tom) is not well. He’s in the hospital while I’m doing the championship game here today. It’s time for me to get done.”

Oxbow players had suspected Wozny might be ready to retire throughout the season, but the 30-year veteran — 28 coaching Oxbow, two in the middle as a umpire — didn’t make it official until after Thursday’s semifinal shutout of Enosburg Falls. If memories of last year’s 3-1 finals loss to Richford wasn’t enough motivation, Wozny’s retirement tipped the scales.

“I’m just really grateful that we ended this way,” Bourgeois, a senior, said. “Our team really deserved it. We worked so hard this season. We pushed through a lot of stuff, and we’re all one. Last year was really devastating, but getting it this year was really good.”

Wozny felt she didn’t have to do much with this year’s Olympians, who returned nine players from a squad that went without a blemish until Richford spoiled the ending. Bourgeois and Fornwalt, Wozny’s two-headed pitching monster, dominated foes all season and had Saturday’s win under control from the start.

Each offers something different. Bourgeois is a cyclone in a bottle: Her left hip shoots out, her right shoulder pops up, her right wrist whips through the delivery and her head flips to the right as she completes the motion. With a rise, drop and changeup, the end result seems less violent than the windup.

As counterpoint, Fornwalt is all straightforward, deal-with it velocity. Wozny regularly alternated the two during the year, often in the same game, and she did it one last time on Saturday to lock down the title.

“That’s a good Oxbow team,” Leland & Gray coach Tammy Claussen said. “You can’t take anything away from their hitters and their pitching. Their defense was solid. They deserved it.”

While Bourgeois and Fornwalt tied up Rebel bats, they undid Leland & Gray pitcher Olivia Brown with their bats.

Each delivered in the opening frame. On a 1-2 count, Bourgeois sent a rainbow to straightaway center; Leland & Gray outfielder Erin Cutts appeared to have it tracked only to watch it arc over her head and just beyond Legion Field’s temporary fence. Fornwalt came up three batters later and, on an 0-1 pitch, delivered a surface-to-surface missile to right-center for a 2-0 lead.

The O’s added a four-spot in the third. Sara Walker produced an RBI single at one end, Alex Giesing delivered another on a fielder’s choice grounder and Fornwalt filled with middle with a two-run bomb for a 6-0 advantage.

“The first one definitely (surprised me), and the second one, too,” Fornwalt said. “They’re all surprising.”

What Bourgeois and Fornwalt produce in the circle isn’t. Bourgeois (five hits, four strikeouts, two walks) retired the Rebels in order in three of the first four innings, showing little effect when Leland & Gray (16-4) nicked her for runs in the fifth and sixth. Tiring on a hot day, Bourgeois gave way in the seventh to Fornwalt, who fanned all three batters she faced.

Giesing knocked in a run and a Leland & Gray error contributed two more in the fifth for a 9-1 cushion. Trojanowski and Kaysea Neil provided RBIs in the sixth to cement Oxbow’s position.

“The other day’s game, our semifinal game, we weren’t hitting as well, but we still came together and played as a team; that’s how we won it,” said senior co-captain Kayleigh Trojanowski, who singled twice, walked and scored two runs. “I’m glad that our hitting was on today, but that really helped us out there. That first home run by Mary, and Maddie following it up … that was awesome.”

The O’s finished with 11 hits off Brown (three strikeouts, four walks), at least one in every frame. Bourgeois, Walker, Fornwalt and Trojanowski all had two hits. Giesing backed Fornwalt’s three RBIs with two of her own. Neil singled once and successfully sacrificed three times, twice on bunt and once on a fly ball.

Wozny has already started cutting down on the many things that have occupied her life in order to be there for her husband. She sold her share of an ice cream shop she’s owned; she’s now stepped back from the dugout with no plan to return.

“It’s time for me to spend some time at home with him,” Wozny said. “I’m going to spend some time at home and watch these kids play from now on.”

Oxbow supporters adorned the rear of the O’s dugout with a simple banner that succinctly described the purpose of the day: #DoitforWoz.

Mission accomplished.

“I feel honored,” Fornwalt said. “She’s been coaching for a lot of years. I hope we made her proud.”

Fungoes: Wozny plans to continue working at Oxbow, although the longtime math teacher will transition to becoming the school’s behavior coach next year. “I could be fired by Christmas,” she joked. … Longtime Rutland Herald sportswriter Tom Haley arrived to cover the game attired in a long-sleeve dress shirt, tie and, of course, baseball cap, after delivering the commencement address at Proctor High School. … Wozny doesn’t like her ballfields fenced, although that didn’t factor in any of Oxbow’s home runs on Saturday. “We don’t have a fence because I think they change home runs into doubles,” she said. … Bourgeois never went into a home-run trot, racing around the bases instead. “I’ve never gotten a home run in my life over the fence, and it was the best thing ever,” she grinned. “I still sprinted. I was so excited.” … Fornwalt’s older brother Jordan, a former Oxbow athlete himself, races Saturday nights at Bear Ridge Speedway. Sis doesn’t race, but she indicated an interest in trying sometime. … Wozny calls him H, the players call him Dad: Longtime assistant Carl Hildebrandt has the retiring coach’s vote to take over the program, should the Oxbow school board approve. “I think they’re going to be good for years to come,” Wozny said.

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