Division IV baseball: Fearless Rivendell falls short

By BEN HOOKE

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 06-11-2024 5:00 PM

ORFORD — After his Rivendell Academy baseball team broke its post-game huddle, coach Eric Reichert offered each of his five seniors a handshake and then a hug.

It was recognition for a group of players who brought his team further than it had ever been in his 30-year tenure but just agonizingly short of their goal of a first-ever trip to Centennial Field for a shot at a state title.

The second-seeded Raptors, hosting their first VPA Division IV baseball semifinal, took an early punch from the sixth-seeded Leland & Gray Rebels and recovered too late, watching their late-inning rally come up a run short to fall, 9-8, at the Orford Recreation Field on a cold, cloudy Monday afternoon.

Trailing 9-5 entering the final inning, the Raptors staged a comeback, scoring three runs with two outs in the inning, but with the tying run 90 feet away at third base, a flyout to left field ended the rally and the season.

“We just couldn’t hit the ball well early … came back late and tried our best, but it just didn’t work,” said outfielder Luke Avery, another senior. “Made some mistakes in the field, too.”

Showing the fearlessness that drove them through the playoffs as an underdog, the Rebels came out swinging, notching one run in the top of the first before a second-inning haymaker brought real fear into the large crowd assembled.

Leland & Gray scored an extra run on an error, then Rebels pitcher Ryan Peloso turned on a 1-1 fastball from Will Knowles to launch a deep shot that cleared the shortened right field fence for a three-run homer that opened a 5-0 deficit that had the hosts stunned.

“A couple of at-bats for us that didn’t go right, and a couple that went really well for them,” Reichert said.

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Rivendell launched a bit of a recovery by scoring two runs in the bottom of the third, and they had the makings of huge inning with the bases loaded and just one out. But they failed to push across anymore runners.

The fourth and fifth innings passed with little action, with the Rebels tacking on an extra run and Rivendell again failing to take full advantage of a bases-loaded situation, only managing a single run to keep the deficit where it was.

In the top of the sixth, things began to come unglued again for the Raptors. With Knowles replaced with the bases loaded, the Rebels scored three more runs with two outs in the inning off reliever Parker Piper. The final run came on a slightly controversial call, as Theo Kelloway drove a ball to left field that appeared to hook foul but was ruled fair by the third-base umpire to produce an RBI ground-rule double as the ball rolled down the hill beside the left-field foul pole.

With a relief pitcher in for the Rebels, Rivendell mounted their comeback. The Raptors loaded the bases with no outs but managed just two runs on a wild pitch and a RBI groundout. A Brayden Larson lineout ended the inning with still four runs to make up for the Raptors in the final stretch.

After loading the bases with just an out, the Raptors pushed their first run across with an RBI groundout from Carter Bacon, then scored two more on well-hit RBI singles from Parker Piper and Wyatt Parker.

With two outs, senior Mason Fahey got just under a 2-2 pitch and lofted a flyball that was caught by the Rebel outfield to end the season.

Rivendell finished 15-3 — a program record for wins — and secured the program’s highest-ever playoff seed. Now begins a challenging rebuild with five senior starters departing.

“This team starts and ends with the seniors,” Reichert said, speaking on the impact Fahey, Piper, Avery, infielder Robert McNelly and outfielder Carter Bacon had on the team. “You always have to rebuild when you’re a small school, but this year will be especially tough.”

Rivendell will return a seven-player crop led by Knowles and right fielder Larson to again attempt to make the school’s first baseball state final.

“Just tried to show them to go out there and go get it,” said Avery when asked what he tried to impart on the younger Raptors. “And not be scared of anything.”