HARTFORD – The uncertainty of the past five months didn’t soften the typical championship jitters for S.D. Ireland coach Tim Albertson. It didn’t change the fact that, on the eve of their title game, his Shamrocks program had never faced Lakes Region.
“You knew they were good, they were the top in the south, you knew they had some really good pitchers, they’d create some havoc, force mistakes,” Albertson said. “I didn’t sleep a ton.”
And it didn’t deny the traditional championship shivers, either, when a pair of S.D. Ireland players dumped a full cooler of ice water over his head after the season finale.
“It’s cold. That breeze really runs through these jerseys,” Albertson said. “It’s good. It’s nice to be on this side at the end.”
Top-seeded S.D. Ireland banked a run in each of the first three innings and got six innings of two-hit ball from starter Ian Parent to repel No. 2 Lakes Region 3-0 in the Vermont Summer Baseball League championship on Sunday.
After months where it seemed like they might not have baseball at all this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Shamrocks’ approach to their five-week campaign was more about savoring than persevering.
Playing — more so than winning — was the reward this summer, the first since 1945 to not have an American Legion baseball season or tournament. The VSBL was created as a one-year stand-in for the long-running circuit.
“It was just nice to have the expectation that we could go play on the field that day,” SDI’s Jacob Murphy said. “Before all this happened we didn’t know if we’d get to play.”
Lakes Region (15-4) reached the final via a back-and-forth semifinal win over host White River Junction. S.D. Ireland (17-1) rode a complete-game four-hitter from Storm Rushford to top Colchester 10-2.
“I don’t think we made too many mistakes these last two weeks,” Albertson said. “It was just fun to watch. Storm, yesterday, throwing a gem — in typical Storm fashion. The kid’s battled through everything and been fantastic for everybody. I was just grateful to see him be in that moment.”
In the final, Parent struck out five and walked six over six innings to earn the win, never letting a runner past second base. Wyatt Cameron sealed the title with a 1-2-3 seventh inning.
“I definitely felt the pressure the last few (innings),” Parent said. “I think every single inning I had at least one or two guys on first or second … when it rained I got drenched, couldn’t grip the ball, walked a few kids.”
But that scenario isn’t quite as daunting with a three-run lead, which S.D. Ireland afforded its top left-hander after a productive start.
With two down in the bottom of the first, Murphy squared up the first pitch he saw from Lakes Region starter Andrew Lanthier (three innings, six hits). That single to right field plated Baker Angstman (2-3, walk).
Facing two outs in the next stanza, Angstman stepped up to push across another tally with a grounder past shortstop that scored Aidan Johnson from second base. And in the third, it was Lars Jensen at the plate with two outs, smacking an RBI-single to center to bring home Parent.
“We needed to come out and put the ball in play like we did,” Albertson said. “The top of our lineup’s been pretty clutch and we’ve been getting some different hitters every day.”
The same didn’t hold true for Lakes Region, which searched for a foothold that never materialized.
“I thought we did our game plan — we just didn’t get that big hit,” coach Adam Greenlese said. “That’s baseball.”
Lakes Region reliever Joe Valerio continued what had worked for Lanthier. He no-hit the Shamrocks over the final three innings, walking three and striking out none.
“They were keeping them off balance, throwing their off-speed pitches in weird counts, hitter’s counts,” Greenlese said.
While S.D. Ireland featured many of the same faces as the state’s last Division I high school baseball champion — Albertson’s 2019 Champlain Valley squad — Lakes Region leaned heavily on the core of the Fair Haven group that won the D-II crown that year. Without a high school season to defend their title, the VSBL season they had was one to cherish regardless of the outcome.
“So many of those guys lost a spring season — that could’ve been a lucrative season for a lot of them,” Greenlese said. “Being able to do this was huge. These kids have just been getting a bunch of bad news, one thing after another, and to have something to look forward to that’s normal, that’s huge.”
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