Double gold: White River Valley softball completes championship sweep

  • Holding the game ball, White River Valley pitcher Chelsie Trask is congratulated on the team's 7-3 state championship win over BFA-Fairfax by Tyler Ballentine and other members of the baseball team, who made the trip to Castleton, Vt., after winning their championship game in Burlington earlier on June 8, 2019. The sophomore left-handed pitcher threw all seven innings. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • White River Valley's Fiona Vaillancourt, left, and Paige Ballentine hoist the hardware after the Wildcats defeated BFA-Fairfax 7-3 to win the Division III state championship in Castleton, Vt., on June 8, 2019. It is the first championship for the first-year team from the merged Bethel and Royalton school districts. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • White River Valley's Blake Southworth reacts to scoring in the fourth inning on Chelsie Trask's double during their Division III state championship game against BFA-Fairfax in Castleton, Vt., on June 8, 2019. White River Valley won, 7-3. At left is White River Valley's Fiona Vaillancourt. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • White River Valley's Sarah Howe (22) runs out the throw to BFA-Fairfax first baseman Bridget Hamel in the first inning of their Division III state championship game in Castleton, Vt., on June 8, 2019. Howe later scored on a single by Chelsie Trask. White River Valley won, 7-3.. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, June 08, 2019

CASTLETON, Vt. — Two state titles in five hours. Not a bad day’s work for White River Valley School, which added a Vermont Division III softball crown Saturday evening to the baseball title captured during the afternoon.

The third-seeded softball team’s 7-3 triumph over top-ranked Bellows Free Academy-Fairfax was clinched at roughly 7:30 p.m., when first baseman Fiona Vaillancourt snared a line drive. She and her teammates whooped it up with their baseball schoolmates cheering them on, then posed for a combined championship photo on the Castleton University grass.

“The first inning is where we set the tone,” said first-year WRV head coach Sandy Gates, whose team took a 1-0 lead in its first at-bat. “We knew we needed to score first so we could settle in.”

The Bullets (16-3) finished as runners-up for a second consecutive season, having lost to Oxbow in the 2018 final. BFA-Fairfax pitcher Taylor Mitchell struck out 14 batters Saturday, allowing 10 hits and seven runs, only three of them earned. The sophomore issued no walks but her team committed five errors.

“We knew if we could hit (Oxbow pitcher Madison Fornwalt), we could hit this girl,” said Gates, whose team upset the No. 2 Olympians, the two-time defending Division III champions, in the semifinals. “Doing that let our girls know what we were capable of. We didn’t think BFA would make many errors, but we were primed and ready to take advantage.”

WRV pitcher Chelsie Trask went the distance, allowing nine hits and three runs, all earned. She struck out seven Bullets and walked none. The sophomore also had three singles and an RBI in the batter’s box. Sophie Howe had three hits and three RBIs and Blake Southworth had a double. The Wildcats had 10 hits overall.

“Chelsea had a fantastic game and deciding whether to start her or Fiona was a nice conundrum to be in,” Gates said. “She has an ease and an aura and a confidence that worked so well at Oxbow, so we decided to let it roll in the final.”

Gates hadn’t notified her players who would be pitching by Friday night, however, and Trask couldn’t take it anymore. She texted her coach and got confirmation that she would be getting the ball.

“I was a little nervous but I had to get over it real fast,” said Trask, who threw a four-hitter in the semifinals. “Our determination to not give up is what won the game for us today.”

White River Valley (16-2) opened the scoring in its first at-bat. Leadoff hitter Sarah Howe reached first when the shortstop’s throw pulled the first baseman off the bag, stole second and took third on a wild pitch. She scored when Trask lined a shot back up the middle that caromed off Mitchell.

The Bullets answered with two runs in the bottom of the first. Leadoff hitter Jaycee Douglas singled, took second on an Ali Ireland sacrifice bunt and third on Mitchell’s single. Douglas scored on a wild pitch that moved Mitchell to third. She scored on Faith Orton’s single.

The Wildcats surged ahead during the top of the fourth. Southworth doubled and Trask singled to center field. BFA-Fairfax’s throw to try to nab Southworth at third couldn’t be held at the base and rolled behind it, allowing the WRV runner to hop up and score for a 2-2 tie.

Trask, who had taken second on the throw, exited for pinch runner Emily Bean, who reached third on a ground out and scored on a Sophie Howe single for a 3-2 lead.

The Wildcats stretched their lead in the fifth, beginning with Sarah Howe’s one-out single. Ballentine followed with a looping line drive off the left fielder’s glove that pushed Howe to third. She scored when the third baseman dropped a towering pop-up, allowing Trask to reach first.

In the bottom half of the fifth, BFA-Fairfax parlayed a two-out single, a stolen base and an Orton triple to make the score 4-3.

The Bullets’ half of the sixth began with a one-out popup by Britney Hamel that traveled only about 15 feet up before landing and spinning back toward the plate. Hamel was safe at first and moved to second on Sarah Coloney’s bunt for a base hit.

Hamel then stole third with Coloney moving to second on the play. The threat was thwarted, however, when Vaillancourt struck out No. 9 hitter Avery Tetrault and caught a line drive from Douglas.

Ballentine knocked a one-out single over the third baseman’s head in the seventh. Trask delivered a two-out liner into left field and was lifted for Bean. Vaillancourt flared a ball over the shortstop to load the bases and Macey Carbino’s hard grounder to third was dropped, scoring Ballentine for a 5-3 lead.

Next up was Sophie Howe, whose grounder up the middle brought in Bean and Vaillancourt for a 7-3 advantage. Carbino was thrown out at third to end the inning.

Gates said that although White River Valley is in its first year of combining students from the Bethel, South Royalton and Chelsea area, the fact that the softball season arrives at the end of the school year was a significant factor.

“A lot of these girls have played soccer and basketball together, so it wasn’t like having a new team,” the coach said. “We may have a new school with a new mascot, but there’s a lot of experience that’s already been gained together.”

The Wildcats’ 3-0 loss to Oxbow during the regular season wasn’t much fun, but Gates said her team might not have captured the championship without it.

“It wasn’t a low point, but it was absolutely a turning point,” she said. “It was a motivational game. The girls saw it was a whole different level of softball that, although we weren’t prepared for it, we knew we could get there.”

Notes: The Bullets’ previous two losses this season were to Division I Missisquoi. ... The game was played to the practice sounds of the Boston Crusaders marching band, tuning up on the football field 200 yards beyond the center field fence. ... WRV center fielder Toni Turner recorded all three outs during the bottom of the third inning. ... Castleton’s campus includes a small skate park behind the softball field’s third-base line. ... The longest-hit ball of the day was a roughly 220-foot foul by Ballentine that landed behind the left field fence but to the left of the foul pole. ... The game started roughly a half hour late, delayed by the ending of the Division I title game before it. BFA-St. Albans beat Missisquoi. ... Vermont Division I softball has 15 schools, Division II has 16, Division III has 12 and Division IV has 10. ... Ray Colton, the longtime coach at Bethel’s Whitcomb High who guided the Hornets to the Division IV crown last spring, attended the game. “He may not be coaching them anymore, but a lot of these players are still his kids,” said Gates, a 2005 Whitcomb High graduate who played three seasons of softball and made three title-game appearances, winning twice. ... Overseeing the scene was Justin Wardwell, the Wildcats’ interim athletic director. Previously Woodstock High’s athletic director, Wardwell moved to White River Valley as a physical education teacher this year before Sean Murphy abruptly resigned earlier this spring.

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