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Phoenix Ready for Turn at the Plate

  • Assistant coach Dave Eastman, left, throws the ball to Sharon Academy senior Christopher Pellegrino during practice at The Sharon Academy in Sharon, Vt., on April 16, 2018. This is the first year of varsity baseball for the school.(Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Carly Geraci

  • From left, Sharon Academy freshman Tom Bissaillon and senior Aidan Trimble watch as senior Kyle Hedgepeth throws two baseballs during practice at The Sharon Academy in Sharon, Vt., on April 16, 2018. Bissaillon is the son of head coach Mike Bissaillon. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Carly Geraci

  • Head coach Mike Bissaillon talks to his players during practice at The Sharon Academy in Sharon, Vt., on April 16, 2018. This is the first year that The Sharon Academy will have a varsity baseball team. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • From left, Sharon Academy seniors Caleb Eastman and Koltin Leduc watch Christopher Pellegrino slide across the court on a rolling chair after practice at The Sharon Academy in Sharon, Vt., on April 16, 2018. Of the 16 players making up the baseball team, eight are seniors. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Carly Geraci

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/16/2018 11:49:24 PM
Modified: 4/17/2018 11:48:02 AM

Sharon — Sharon Academy baseball coach Mike Bissaillon is keeping his expectations low for the program’s first season of varsity competition. The team is an unknown commodity; its pitchers and hitters are untested at this level. It’s hard to know how this season will shake out.

Then again, the end result might not matter. What’s important is that Sharon finally gets to show what it can do.

“We’re out here playing,” Bissaillon said on Friday afternoon behind the Sharon Elementary School, his team going through a rare early-spring outdoor batting practice on the school’s undersized field. “We’ve already won.”

Sharon joins the Vermont Principals Association Division IV fray for the first time in the school’s 16-year history this spring, ending a multi-year effort by the current crop of eight seniors to upgrade the program before they graduate. The sport emerged at the high school in 2015 as a club program. Two years later, with numbers still stable, TSA athletic director Blake Fabrikant decided to put baseball on the path toward varsity. It is scheduled to open up Thursday against South Royalton.

The situation is certainly not perfect; the team is loaded with upperclassmen set to graduate this spring, and its field for home games is a shared space at Chelsea High, a half-hour away. But Sharon’s seniors — Cale Hale, Caleb Eastman, Aiden Trimble, Kyle Hedgepeth, Koltin LeDuc, Chris Pellegrino, Kian Kaufman and Sam Knoerlein — finally get the chance they’ve been hoping for. 

“I think we’ve got a lot of really dedicated baseball players and a lot of people who are looking forward to winning,” said Trimble, a center fielder and pitcher for TSA. “I don’t think we’re going to be the worst team on the field. We’ve got a lot of people who can play baseball. … I think everybody is up for taking the leap to the next step.”

Fabrikant said TSA’s athletic department looked at several options before landing on Chelsea’s field, and he admitted the situation is less than ideal. 

“Our first choice, for obvious reasons, was Maxfield (Sports Complex in White River Junction),” Fabrikant said in an email. “We looked at Clifford Park in West Hartford, which was revamped after Tropical Storm Irene. That would have been ideal; it’s less than 15 minutes from TSA and it would have been our own exclusive home field. Unfortunately, the outfield is just too small, and there was too much work to be done in the infield. We didn’t have the time or the resources to pull it off.

“The biggest drawback, obviously, is the distance,” he added. “It’s almost 30 minutes away from TSA, and the vast majority of our students do not live in that direction.”

Fabrikant said the athletic department hasn’t yet planned past this season. Sharon does not have a field on campus. Chelsea’s field remains an option for the future, he said, even after the school closes down as part of Act 46 consolidation. The same goes for the diamond at Whitcomb High, another upcoming Act 46 casualty.

Clifford Park remains a possibility if Sharon can find the resources to patch up the infield and expand left field currently blocked by bushes and shrubs. 

That future will also depend on the team’s sustainability. Bissaillon’s squad will graduate half of its roster this season. Meanwhile, three members of the roster — Blair Locke, Chase Conway and Jaime Potter — are eighth-graders called up to fill out the team’s reserves. Bissaillon said 15 would be an ideal number to keep the program healthy.

Sharon’s only other athletic option in the spring is ultimate, a Frisbee sport that is scheduled to go varsity next year. TSA has 31 students registered to play ultimate, making it one of the biggest teams in the state.

Fabrikant said offering the student body another spring sports option is worth the effort, even if keeping the program viable takes several years to establish.

“Our plan is to have a team again next spring, and I’m sure the seniors who have built this program will do their due diligence in recruiting new members to make sure the program can survive,” Fabrikant said. “I know we have interest in our middle school, too. If worse comes to worst, we can consider joining with another school to form a cooperative team. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Bissaillon said he’s not thinking about numbers past this season just yet. He envisions a pitching trio of Trimble, Hedgepath and freshman Tom Bissaillon, the coach’s son, bearing most of the workload this spring.

“I think our pitching will be one of our strengths,” said Bissaillon, who works by day as an equipment manager at Dartmouth College’s athletic department. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. A lot of firsts this year, which will be neat. First win, hopefully our first winning streak. And it’s good life experience for (the seniors) to be driving this bus and getting us where we are. This didn’t seem possible two or three years ago.”

Trimble said he’s noticed a more focused group than in years past but a similar preseason feeling around the team despite the upgraded competition level.

“It’s really exciting now that we’re a varsity squad,” Trimble said. “I think everyone is taking it a little bit more seriously now that we’re varsity. … There’s a pretty big senior contingent on the team. A lot of us are pretty happy. It’s rewarding to finally be varsity after we showed up and there wasn’t even a team to play on.”

For Fabrikant, giving Sharon’s senior group a chance to compete is the least the school could do to repay their dedication.

“(The seniors) have been the backbone of our baseball program since they were in middle school,” Fabrikant said. “They pleaded with me to be a varsity team for years. And in return for their efforts, they got their wish. … I do feel we owe this to them. They put the work in. The reward is to have a varsity team.”

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




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