This & That

Rylee Ewald is the only senior on the Green Mountain Union High School Softball Team, who finished the season with a 12-4 record and advanced to the Vermont State Division III quarterfinals before losing to perennial power Poultney. The team is primed for another strong season in 2017 with plenty of talent returning. Photo by Doug MacPhee
Rylee Ewald is the only senior on the Green Mountain Union High School Softball Team, who finished the season with a 12-4 record and advanced to the Vermont State Division III quarterfinals before losing to perennial power Poultney. The team is primed for another strong season in 2017 with plenty of talent returning.
Photo by Doug MacPhee

 

Pitching is often the name of the game in softball and Jade Twombly has been that name for Springfield the past two seasons. She has graduated, BUT losing only four seniors expect Springfield to be respectable again next season. Photo by Doug MacPhee
Pitching is often the name of the game in softball and Jade Twombly has been that name for Springfield the past two seasons. She has graduated, BUT losing only four seniors expect Springfield to be respectable again next season.
Photo by Doug MacPhee

 

There were a couple of area softball teams this spring who deserve one more round of applause. Both Springfield and Green Mountain had very strong seasons and achieved at a high level. Both of them with a break here or there could have gone a step or two further, BUT they for the year, both played to a level that was above where the bar back in March had been set.

Springfield’s program has become so good under Andy Bladyka that you expect wins year after year. The mass expectations are in a way, not fair. While the school is lucky to tread water in most other sports, softball has become so constant, everyone always expects more. “In my eyes privately, we overachieved. We had a lot of building to do when the season started and we were successful,” Bladyka summarized.

Bladyka and prized assistant Mike Langdon see the task ahead of them each spring and the athletes and coaches work so hard to plug any holes from the year before, that before the tourney begins, they all seem to forget, who they were suppose to be and expect to win, even when they shouldn’t. It has been a long time since Cosmo softball was eliminated in a post-season game, when anyone thought, they didn’t have a chance.

They hoped this spring to avenge last year’s finals loss to Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax and chances appeared good, because the BFA incredible pitching had moved on to Plymouth State, BUT the fates moved in and robbed the Green and White in the quarters. Bladya knew all along a team coached by Black River native Geri-Lyn Witalec, would be a tough one, BUT his Cosmos were in complete control leading 3-0 through four frames…………..WHEN……….

WHEN “They got lucky and we were unlucky. Jade (Twombly) was pitching a great game WHEN two little infield hits changed the momentum. BFA had scored one in the fifth and then had two in the sixth to tie,” Bladyka sadly remembered, BUT then the two more runs to decide things in extra frames in the ninth and the win went to the northerners.

“It was like two different games,” Bladyka remembers, “BUT this entire team came along. It came together throughout the season. We rotated some players and we evolved. We started the season with two freshmen in the line-up and that can be scary, BUT we built it as a team and you are always disappointed when we didn’t go further, BUT,” as he alluded to earlier, they privately overachieved.

Some final Bladyka takeaways from 2016: “We will miss our four seniors. They meant so much to us” (Brooke Willey “an unbelieveable year at short”, Calista Polidor “another hitter who was strong up the middle”, Ari Rowe “who added some chemistry we really needed” and Twombly, who completed her season with 196 strikeouts in 122 innings and an ERA of 1.26 and who limited opponents to a batting average of .161. She also completed her final two seasons, including several contests against Division I teams with a 28-9 record and 360 strikeouts. Twombly and Willey and catcher Cassidy Otis “made the big difference in our team when she switched to catcher” made first team MVL at their positions and Lina Geyer was second team. Willey will play in the North-South Senior All-Star games at Castleton July 1st and 2nd. Twombly could not compete because of a college conflict.

Green Mountain was on the way up when the season began, BUT the schedule at the beginning of 2016 AND their transition to a more instinctively savvy team, delayed their full arrival at the start. Terry Farrell’s team caught our eye early with very competitive 4-0 and 6-1 losses to Springfield. We knew the higher division Cosmos were going to be good, BUT the Lady Chieftains competed at a higher level than we expected, not once, BUT twice. At that time, Farrell knew he had a long ways to go, BUT I was surprised when I spoke to him how confident he actually appeared.

My overall look at the team in reality, went down some though, due to a loss versus Leland & Gray 10-3 and a close game with Black River 13-10, not because Black River would not be a good team, BUT they would be D-IV good, not D-III good. Then gradually the ladies from Chester kept looking better and better, UNTIL, all of a sudden, they had won eleven of twelve and were sitting in sixth place heading into the tournament. They had avenged their loss to Leland & Gray with a 11-9 win, had a one sided game with Black River 26-7 and had fought tooth and nail with perennial power Poultney on the road before losing 9-8. When all the chips fell in place, what all this had done was set up a quarterfinal rematch at Poultney and unfortunately the Chieftains road ended there with an 8-3 play-off loss.

“I knew at the beginning of the season, we would have to become better handling game situations. At first, we worked and worked and they were not getting much better, BUT then all of a sudden we became much better and that was the most important part,” Farrell tells us. “The other thing which happened was,” the coach added, “we stopped using the pitching machine so much. We went more with live pitching in batting practice and this helped us in more than one way. We started to hit better and it helped us develop two more pitchers (Erika Knockenhauer and Noelle Gignoux), which will make us better in the future.” Another thing which really made us take off,” Farrell said is “we knew Kim Schultz would help us, BUT we didn’t know she would be able to play centerfield like she did. That stopped us from having to make other defensive switches, which might have weakened us overall.”

Green Mountain did have a strong season, BUT the question remained, could they hit enough to beat Poultney on the road in the play-offs? The answer was no in the long run, BUT these Chieftains had a great year, were really fun to watch for their fans, lose only one player, stellar senior pitcher Rylee Ewald and should, with the developed pitching and returning players, be back in the mix again.

Farrell said entering the finale, “We knew we would have to outhit Poultney to win, AND although I was confident we would, we didn’t, BUT I really liked our team and they finished much higher than I thought we would. I wasn’t sure, BUT I was hoping to win 10 games, we had 12 and played very good softball.”

Springfield and Green Mountain, two very successful softball seasons, NOW as Bladyka always says, “We have a lot of work to do to build it again.” We believe him, BUT both Farrell and Bladyka have a program. They don’t as much build it again as they remodel it. Teams such as these two are fun to watch.

AND you thought their fans were excited about each spring to get rid of the cold weather. It really is because they can’t wait for another softball season to begin.

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