×

Reconstruction zone: Post 84 roster young but varied

  • White River Junction Legion Post 84 pitcher Ryan Pepe talks with coach John O'Hara after their loss with Brattleboro Legion Post 5 on Tuesday, July 2, 2019 in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • White River Junction Post 84 pitcher Robert Slocum throws to the plate on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, against Brattleboro Post 5 in White River Junction, Vt.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Legion baseball team White River Junction Post 84 takes the field on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, against Brattleboro Post 5 in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, July 08, 2019

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Playoff-style baseball has arrived early for the White River Junction Post 84 American Legion baseball team this summer. In the midst of a 10-game stretch in as many days, the teenaged squad is battling to secure one of four Vermont state tournament berths out of the seven-team Southern Division.

During a recent three-year stretch, Post 84 was not only a lock to appear in the eight-team state tournament but a legitimate threat to win it and advance to New England regional play. The 2015 and 2017 campaigns ended in the Vermont title game, sandwiched around a 2016 semifinal exit.

Those teams were heavy on Hartford High talent, including current Upper Valley Nighthawks pitcher Jordy Allard and the brother duos of Jacob and Hunter Perkins and Tyler and Kyle Hamilton. Other Hurricane roster fixtures were infielder Dylan Spencer, outfielder Codi Smith and pitcher Wyatt Connor.

These days? Post 84 is ramping up a reloading process that began last summer, when it finished 16-15 overall and lost its first two games at the double-elimination state tournament. That team featured players from seven area high schools, and while this summer’s crop represents only five, their products are spread throughout the regular lineup.

“These are the dog days of summer,” said head coach John O’Hara, a team assistant from 2015-17 who took over last year for Hartford High coach Jarrod Grassi, who’d long guided the Hartford area’s summer entry. “We’re getting experience and taking our lumps, but we’re building.”

White River Junction features nine players new to Legion ball but has 16 competitors eligible to return next summer. It’s also working to overcome the absence of standouts Tyler Hamilton and Ryland Richardson, who are recovering from knee injuries suffered during football last fall. Hamilton’s occurred at Bates College in Maine and Richardson’s with Windsor High.

“They can each pitch, catch and play shortstop,” O’Hara said. “Not having them is also a big blow to our leadership.”

In the pair’s absence, that job has sometimes fallen to 2018 Hartford graduate Hunter Perkins, who’s in his sixth Legion season. After attending Maine’s all-male Bridgton Academy this past school year, he’s off to Castleton University in the fall, where he hopes to play for the Spartans.

“It helps to start young and have a lot of experience like I have,” Perkins said. “My role has flipped completely, but I kind of like being the big dog of the team. I try to keep everyone motivated.”

Perkins, who’s lost 65 pounds during the last year, is once again mobile enough to play the outfield, where he’s most likely to get a shot in college. O’Hara trusts his veteran enough that he often leaves the outfield alignment to Perkins, who knows every Legion veteran’s tendencies and picks up quickly on newcomers.

“He covers a lot of ground by reading the ball and taking good angles,” the coach said. “He moves guys around out there. He has a different attitude, and it’s like having another coach.”

White River Junction entered Monday’s game with visiting Bellows Falls at 7-11-1 overall and 5-6 in Vermont play. Recent Windsor graduate Robert Slocum, headed to play at Norwich University with Richardson, anchors the pitching staff, along with Hartford’s Alex Bushway. Catcher Ethan Belvin, pitcher-outfielder Sam Mitchell and first baseman Grayson Frazer are also Windsor products, with the latter showing relief-pitching effectiveness as a soft-throwing sidearmer.

Woodstock’s burly Tom Bissaillon can play outfield or third base, and Thetford Academy, fresh off a strong season, has contributed Ryan Pepe, Nate O’Donnell, John Moore and Jake Colby. Post 84 veteran and Springfield High infielder Brady Clark is back, and Hartford chips in with veteran shortstop Kyle Hamilton and newcomers Curtis Barry, Drew Martin and Jacob Dwinell.

“We’re in the gauntlet right now,” said O’Hara, whose team plays 34 games in 43 days this summer and is using almost everyone on his 18-player roster in some sort of pitching capacity. “It’s not just the other teams we’re playing, but how often we’re playing.”

Said Slocum: “We’ve been making mental mistakes, but the (high school) offseason is about getting better. I feel like these guys want to win just as much as the players we had before. We have good talent, and we just need it to come together.”

Notes: This year’s Vermont state Legion tournament runs from July 27-31 with sites in Colchester and Essex Junction. … Post 84 got new uniforms and colors this season. O’Hara said it was hard to find a consistent shade of maroon, which previously went with black and white on his team’s duds. So he switched to navy, gray and white and donned No. 72, in honor of his son, Brandt, a football guard at Plymouth State. Kyle Hamilton is wearing No. 55, the same digits his father, Dartmouth College diving coach Chris Hamilton, wore as a prep school linebacker at Maine Central Institute. … Former Post 84 and Windsor pitcher Seth Balch is playing for Bellows Falls this summer. … Slocum works days as a Windsor Recreation camp counselor and also plays men’s league basketball at night. … Allard watches his former Post 84 teammates as often as he can. “It’s been a growing couple of years for them, but they do more stuff in the community than we did, and that helps grow local baseball,” he said. … Bridgton Academy, founded in 1934, counts among its graduates include former NFL players Jermaine Wiggins and Victor Cruz. Annual tuition is more than $50,000, and the 155-student school’s website describes itself as an “opportunity factory.” … South Royalton Post 51 won the area’s last Vermont Legion title in 1995, and Post 84’s precursor, Hartford Post 26, captured the championship in 1991.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.