D-III baseball semifinals: White River Valley tips TA, returns to finals

White River Valley High's Jacob Benoit (12) successfully steals home, jumping around the tag of Thetford catcher Andrew Spooner, who doesn't realize the ball is behind him during the Vermont Division III teams' playoff semifinal on June 10, 2024, in Thetford, Vt. White River Valley won, 8-6. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

White River Valley High's Jacob Benoit (12) successfully steals home, jumping around the tag of Thetford catcher Andrew Spooner, who doesn't realize the ball is behind him during the Vermont Division III teams' playoff semifinal on June 10, 2024, in Thetford, Vt. White River Valley won, 8-6. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — Tris Wykes

White River Valley High baseball players celebrate their 8-6 defeat of Thetford while Panthers player Gavin Chambers heads for the dugout on June 10, 2024, in Thetford, Vt. The result sent White River Valley to the Vermont Division III finals. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

White River Valley High baseball players celebrate their 8-6 defeat of Thetford while Panthers player Gavin Chambers heads for the dugout on June 10, 2024, in Thetford, Vt. The result sent White River Valley to the Vermont Division III finals. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

White River Valley High baseball coach Devin Cilley, left, confers with batter Ty Couture during their Vermont Division III playoff semifinal game against Thetford on June 10, 2024, in Thetford, Vt. White River Valley won, 8-6. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

White River Valley High baseball coach Devin Cilley, left, confers with batter Ty Couture during their Vermont Division III playoff semifinal game against Thetford on June 10, 2024, in Thetford, Vt. White River Valley won, 8-6. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

White River Valley High shortstop Ty Couture (30) holds the ball while Thetford's Liam Brooks dives safely into third base during the Vermont Division III teams' playoff semifinal on June 10, 2024, in Thetford, Vt. Donavan Craven is at left. The play unfolded in unusual fashion, with two rundowns and two outs, the latter occurring with Brooks tagged while trying to return to second base. White River Valley won, 8-6. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

White River Valley High shortstop Ty Couture (30) holds the ball while Thetford's Liam Brooks dives safely into third base during the Vermont Division III teams' playoff semifinal on June 10, 2024, in Thetford, Vt. Donavan Craven is at left. The play unfolded in unusual fashion, with two rundowns and two outs, the latter occurring with Brooks tagged while trying to return to second base. White River Valley won, 8-6. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

White River Valley pitcher Wyatt Cadwell delivers against Thetford during the Vermont Division III teams' playoff semifinal on June 10, 2024, in Thetford, Vt. White River Valley won, 8-6. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

White River Valley pitcher Wyatt Cadwell delivers against Thetford during the Vermont Division III teams' playoff semifinal on June 10, 2024, in Thetford, Vt. White River Valley won, 8-6. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-11-2024 4:01 PM

Modified: 06-14-2024 10:39 PM


THETFORD — If the White River Valley High baseball team was going to lose in Monday’s VPA Division III semifinals, timidity wouldn’t be a cause. Of that, Wildcats coach Devin Cilley was certain.

Tied during the seventh inning and not wanting to hand top-seeded and host Thetford Academy the chance for a relatively easy walk-off victory, Cilley pushed his squad’s figurative chips to the center of the table. He sent baserunner Jacob Benoit from third with the bases loaded, two outs and instructions to slam on the brakes partway down the baseline.

Cilley’s bet was that Panthers ace Xander Oshoniyi would balk in the go-ahead run. When the sophomore threw to third base, however, and Tommy Amber’s relay throw to the plate wasn’t cleanly fielded by catcher Andrew Spooner, the gambit paid off in unintended fashion.

“We were on the road, and it was a go-get-it situation,” said Cilley, whose sixth-seeded team scored four more runs during that seventh inning and needed nearly all of them for an 8-6 victory. “Jacob got a little bit too far, but it worked out great. You have to be aggressive to win.”

White River Valley (13-5) advances to the title game for the sixth time in as many seasons under Cilley, who took the head job at his alma mater when it was still called South Royalton High. The Wildcats lost in the finals to Thetford (11-7) last season but entered that game having won three championships in a row and five of the previous six.

Cilley’s bunch will face fifth-seeded BFA-Fairfax (10-7) at Burlington’s Centennial Field on either Friday or Saturday. The Wildcats will work to erase memories of last season’s 6-0 title-game loss to the Panthers, during which Oshoniyi struck out eight batters to help Thetford to its second state title and its first in 37 years.

Oshoniyi pitched sparingly this spring, however, troubled by what 14th-year Thetford coach Phil Chaput described as a forearm injury. The righthander was still impressive Monday before being relieved by Dempsey McGovern during the seventh inning.

Wildcats counterpart Wyatt Cadwell also struggled in that frame, but Cilley said it was ride or die with his top gun.

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“He’s the best we’ve got,” the coach said of a junior whose sister attends Thetford and whose mother is the Panthers’ girls basketball coach and an Academy teacher. “They were hitting him hard and I thought about it for one quick second, but I wanted him to get it done for us. He’s been a workhorse for two years.”

Oshoniyi struck out six Wildcats and walked five while allowing six hits and seven runs, six of them earned during a 6⅔-inning stint. Cadwell struck out four Panthers and walked none, allowing 10 hits and six earned runs.

Thetford’s Justin Robinson hit a two-run home run during the first inning. Brooks had two singles, as did Evan Patterson and Oshoniyi. Amber hit a double. For WRV, Cadwell and Zander Clark each smacked two singles.

The play of the game might have occurred during the bottom of the fifth inning with Thetford’s Brooks on first base and Patterson on second. Oshoniyi hit a drive to center field that pushed Patterson to third, where he was held by Chaput. Brooks, however, rounded second with a full head of steam and stranded himself between bases.

Patterson, trying to help his teammate, ran off third to create another rundown and was tagged out by Wildcats catcher Brayden Russ. Meanwhile, Brooks, who’d dived safely into third base, ran back toward second and was also chased down and tagged by Russ.

Russ “is by far my best athlete,” Cilley said. “If we throw the ball away there and don’t get an out, that’s a different game.”

Said Chaput: “Guys get excited and they don’t (look at) the third-base coach early. Sometimes the adrenaline in a pressure-cooker situation is pumping too high.”

Notes: Cilley avoided his players’ initial attempt at dumping a cooler of water on him after the game but was soaked later in the dugout. … Many of the players involved in the schools’ recent boys basketball state title clash were on the field Monday. Thetford won that game, 60-58, after trailing by 20 points during the third quarter and by overcoming a 12-point deficit with 5 minutes, 31 seconds to play. … Oshoniyi’s father, Bo, who became Dartmouth College’s men’s soccer coach in 2018, watched from behind the backstop. … Thetford reached the semifinals for the fifth consecutive season and is 25-13 during the last two years. … BFA-Fairfax hasn’t been in a division final since 2015, when it made its third consecutive appearance and won its second consecutive title. … Fairfax, a town of roughly 5,000 people, is located in the northwest corner of Vermont.

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