WRJ Post 84 finally runs out of steam at states

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/31/2021 9:37:02 PM
Modified: 7/31/2021 9:37:03 PM

RUTLAND — Even after White River Junction Post 84 opened an 11-5 lead over the South Burlington Wildcats in the sixth inning of Saturday’s Vermont American Legion state baseball tournament elimination game, head coach Dylan Spencer wasn’t comfortable.

He knew he was running thin on pitchers and that no lead was safe against the Wildcats’ potent offense. And he was right.

Post 84’s season came to an end Saturday in an eight-inning, 12-11 defeat at St. Peter’s Field. This was WRJ’s second loss to the Wildcats in the last four days.

“(South Burlington) can swing it really well,” Spencer said. “I knew they had two more chances to get back in the game, and that’s what they did. I thought we had a good shot of winning it at that point. But yeah, they came out, ended up doing what they needed to do to claw themselves back into the game.”

After playing two games Friday, and with another game looming Saturday with a win over the Wildcats, Spencer was relying on starting pitcher Curtis Barry to throw the maximum 105 pitches allowed in American Legion baseball. Spencer hoped that could get Post 84 (13-9) through the entire game.

Barry hit that pitch count during the sixth inning. Until then, he’d performed damage control against South Burlington (16-5).

The Wildcats scored five runs off Barry in the first five innings, and scored in four of the five frames. But they stranded runners on base in every inning, and Barry’s ability to work out of trouble gave Post 84 a chance to come back.

But in that bottom of the sixth, after Post scored seven runs, Barry lost control of the game. He allowed three consecutive hits to open the inning and ultimately created too much of a mess to escape.

After South Burlington got two runs back to make it 11-7, Barry walked a batter to load the bases. He then picked up a key strikeout for the second out but walked the next batter to bring in a run and put the tying run on first base. He hit 105 pitches on that fourth ball.

Spencer went to Ethan Marshia off the bench.

But as the Wildcats loudly cheered on their teammates and heckled Post 84 in the field, the game felt noticeably different.

“In the sixth, when we had to bring in another pitcher, that’s when we could really feel the momentum swing,” Post 84 shortstop Carder Stratton said. “And then they started scoring runs, and you could just feel it starting to slip from us.”

“They’re a good group about communicating and always cheering on, being loud in the dugout, even the guys that aren’t in the game. They’re just naturally loud and talkative, communicating to their teammates any chance that they can get,” Spencer said. “And we struggled with that a lot this year. After we got the big lead, our energy went down a little bit, for sure.”

Marshia allowed two more runs to score, but ended the inning with WRJ clinging to an 11-10 lead. Post 84 went down in order in the top of the seventh, and Spencer sent catcher Ethan Belvin to the mound to close out the game. He hit the Wildcats’ leadoff batter, Avery Smith, who advanced to second on a ground out. Smith took third on a wild pitch, and then scored the tying run when Belvin balked.

Belvin got the game to extra innings despite South Burlington putting the potential winning run on second base in the seventh. But after the Wildcats sat down WRJ 1-2-3 on just nine pitches in the top of the eighth, Post 84 was unable to hold on.

Belvin walked Wildcats leadoff hitter Nolan Antonicci, who quickly stole second base and got to third on a wild pitch. He scored the winning run on a deep fly ball from Mason Klesch.

During Post 84’s postgame team meeting, Spencer told his players he was proud of them.

“We were one of the best four teams in the state,” Spencer said. “Getting to this point’s not easy. We weren’t able to do it in ’18 and ’19. So to win two Legion tournament games is a huge accomplishment for our players and our program.”

Seth Tow can be reached at stow@vnews.com.

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