A season of change

  • White River Valley's Carder Stratton (12) is expected to join what could be a deep White River Junction Post 84 rotation for the coming Vermont American Legion baseball season. Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Greg Fennell—

  • Colin Vielleux, right, waits with teammates, from left, Cam Tucker, Danny Bushway, Shane Jenks, and Drew Martin, as Windsor warms up on the field at the Maxfield Sports Complex in Hartford, Vt., Thursday, May 20, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file — James M. Patterson

  • Hartford pitcher Alex Bushway delivers from the mound in the third inning of their game with Mount Anthony in White River Junction, Vt., on May 20, 2019. Mount Anthony won, 3-0, in the first game of the doubleheader. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Geoff Hansen (top left), Greg Fennell (bottom left)

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 6/16/2021 10:36:51 PM
Modified: 6/16/2021 10:36:58 PM

WEST LEBANON — Rob Woodward ended last summer’s baseball season with a championship and the belief that most of his roster would return this year. Dylan Spencer still had some college classes to finish and figured he’d be an assistant coach again when the next summer rolled around.

How things change.

The Twin States lost American Legion baseball to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but they didn’t lose the game entirely. Woodward guided an independent team, the Upper Valley Anglers, to a share of a New Hampshire independent league title. Spencer, helping Justin Devoid with the White River Junction Junior Nighthawks, joined a semifinal run in a substitute Vermont league.

As Legion returns this week, Spencer has become WRJ Post 84 head coach upon Devoid’s ascension to the top job with the NECBL’s Upper Valley Nighthawks. And Woodward is wondering who will form a new core for a program that finally enjoyed some on-field success in 2020.

“We had tryouts late, sometime within the last two weeks, and we’ve had to have a makeup date,” Spencer said this week. “We had our original tryout last Sunday, then we had a scrimmage two days ago with Lebanon Post 22. We weren’t able to have everybody participate because it was short notice. … I’m finalizing the roster as we speak.”

Of the two programs, Post 84 appears positioned for immediate success, because most of its high school feeder programs enjoyed top-notch springs.

Spencer — who played with Post 84 and its Hartford Post 26 predecessor — gets a chunk of talent from Hartford High, which reached the VPA Division II semifinals this month. The Hurricanes’ top two pitchers, Alex Bushway and Colin Vielleux, will likely front a starting rotation that should soon add Carder Stratton, who tossed a complete-game four-hitter in White River Valley’s D-IV championship win last week. Spencer added that Thetford ace Ethan Marshia — who threw well into the fifth inning of the Panthers’ D-III title game loss on Sunday night — has also expressed interest.

“I have a lot of successful pitching this season; I’m excited to utilize that,” he added. “We’ve got a deep rotation. That’s probably going to be the main backbone of the team.”

The demise of the Randolph Post 9 program has opened the door for two of Stratton’s WRV teammates, Jacob and Curtis Barry, to join him at Post 84. Jacob Barry batted leadoff for the Wildcats, a team that has turned base stealing into a lethal weapon; both were part of Devoid’s independent league roster last summer.

Vielleux and Hurricane teammate Danny Bushway both “have a very nice swing” at the plate, Spencer said. Windsor’s Ethan Belvin provides power — he homered against Thetford in the D-III semis and hit a grand slam in the recent Post 22 scrimmage — and will team up with Hartford’s Nick Martin behind the plate.

Post 84 opened its season at Rutland on Wednesday and will entertain Post 31 in its Maxfield Sports Complex home opener on Tuesday.

“We’ve got a lot of experience from the last few seasons, a little less turnover,” said Spencer, who completed a civil engineering degree from UVM last month. “That should help some of the inexperience for me as a coach.”

On-field Legion experience will be lacking in Woodward’s Post 22 roster this summer.

After earning a share of the one-off New Hampshire COVID Baseball League championship, the longtime Post 22 coach anticipated plenty of talent back in the program’s Legion return. However, at least five potential returnees — Sam Sacerdote, Ben Williams, Nolan Gantrish, Trey Chickering and Brendan Walker — have joined out-of-the-area travel teams or summer college associations this summer.

“It’s a huge loss, because we don’t have core kids to bring them along,” Woodward said this week. “Now we’re young, with none of the core. It’s over the whole field; we have young kids playing for the first time. They see the core and what’s happening and kind of take it on. Now, all but three of my guys have never played in this league before.”

That puts the trio — Hanover’s Casey Graham and Josh Bucci along with Sunapee’s Harper Flint — into lead-by-example roles.

Graham provided solid defense and batting for 13-1 Hanover this spring, while Bucci can pitch or play infield. Flint fronted a Sunapee High squad that reached the NHIAA D-IV quarterfinals.

Woodward does add Lebanon High’s Braeden Falzarano, who didn’t join the Anglers last summer but who did front the rotation for the Raiders this spring.

“I think if they can play the game and catch the given outs, we’ll do well,” said Woodward, whose senior squad opens at Concord on Thursday night. “But there’s going to be a breaking-in period.”

Lebanon High coach Chauncey Wood will guide Post 22’s junior program, which opens at Derry on Thursday night. Wood oversaw the Anglers’ U17 team last season.

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

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