Black River, Green Mountain in playoffs

The Black River-Green Mountain rivalry is either on its last legs or it could have already ended. At least the competitive part of it, that is. After years and years of Presidents versus Sentinels and Chieftains, there is a strong chance that the two battles in both baseball and softball this spring might have been the swan song. Black River could possibly field some varsity teams in their final year of existence, but how they could ever be competitive with Green Mountain appears out of the question. Odds are if the Presidents play any varsity schedules in 2019-20, those teams will be very, very young.

Those two baseball games between the two rivals this spring were very strange. Chieftain Coach Matt McCarthy told me, “When Zach Paul pitches, they are a very tough team to beat.” However, Green Mountain defeated Black River twice and Paul started both games. Now, the rest of the story. The truth is Green Mountain never actually beat Paul.

I call Black River and Green Mountain a tremendous rivalry. Over the years, it has been a great one from a number of vantage points. There has been hatred at times, great games, but in recent years respect and closeness has played a big part in relations between the two schools. It all starts with many of the coaches. There have been several occasions when one of the schools has advanced further than the other in the post season. Some of the rival coaches and some players have been seen at state playoff games of their nearby rivals, cheering them on. I consider this healthy.

Both Black River and Green Mountain are high seeds in their respective baseball tourneys this spring. In fact, they are the highest seeds our reporting area has in any sport this season. The Presidents have earned the number one seed in the Vermont Division IV Tournament and Green Mountain has placed themselves second in Division III. They both could host two home games on their way to their respective division title games. Since they both host games Friday, May 31 at 4:30 p.m. (Black River versus the Sharon-Mount Saint Joseph winner and Green Mountain against the winner of the Peoples-Randolph game) any cheering for their closest rival will be conducted from long distance at the start.

By the way, before going any further, I would be the first one in line to call for a recount of this year’s two baseball games between the two schools. Their two games were won handily by the Chieftains 12-7 and 15-5, but there were extenuating circumstances. Don’t get me wrong, the Chieftains won both games fair and square, but both games were decided by the big picture not by which team may be better.

Black River Coach Jim O’Neil played things just the way 99% of coaches would have played them. He started his ace Paul in both games and remarkably led both games 4-0 after four innings. Duplicate scores after duplicate innings.

Then O’Neil pulled his starter in both games and the Presidents didn’t have the kind of pitching depth that could hold the lead. Green Mountain is a good team and has more pitching depth. They waited both contests out and prevailed. In one of those games Black River threw 106 pitches before retiring the Chieftains in one inning.

Why didn’t O’Neil stick with Paul in one of the games and defeat their fiercest rival? First and foremost, Black River was fighting for their second consecutive Division Marble Valley League title and needed Paul to have innings to throw in other divisions games in adjacent games to make such a happening come true. Obviously O’Neil certainly has confidence in his stellar ace, but Green Mountain is good enough to come back and possibly win anyway. There were no guarantees, but still in jest I still want a recount or some type of third game played after the season ends with all pitchers eligible. One final Black River-Green Mountain game. Before fans get on a bandwagon, such a game would be illegal. Too bad.

Truth be told, I am cheering loudly for both these teams to go as far as they can and wouldn’t it be nice to see both of them collecting all the marbles in Black River’s swan song in a banner season? However, it is not all that easy. Both teams have a good chance, especially because of their pitching, but both O’Neil and McCarthy have to scheme out the pitches to make their staffs play out to their best. There is certainly plenty of dice throwing in a high school baseball tournament. Match-ups are of extreme importance.

O’Neil has had the type of practice I noted earlier, utilizing his pitching to make it work the best way possible. That is why the Presidents are unbeaten in Division IV and also may be the reason they lost to Green Mountain twice in games that in one way don’t count. But readers please promise not to tell those athletes in the Presidents’ uniform that their games with the Chieftains do not count. I guarantee you they don’t feel that way.

I like the way both schools sit entering the playoffs, but neither team has an easy route to the title game despite the home field advantage in their first two games. From our perch, the Chieftains road is a little tougher. Their first game is expected to be against a Peoples team, which finished sixth with an 9-6 record and has won seven games in a row, including their finale versus Division II’s number two seed Enosburgh, which was 14-1 entering the game.

The good news is that McCarthy’s team has plenty of pitching and is hoping Peoples may have to use up some of theirs to reach the quarterfinals. If Green Mountain wins that opener, chances are that Vergennes will be coming to town and the Commodores played 12 of their 16 games versus either Division I or II competition. In the four games they played below Division II, the average score was 14-0. That’s right, no Division III or IV teams scored against them. They were 7-5 against those Division II and II teams, but none of those teams finished above fourth in their division.

Rice was fourth in Division I, and they defeated Vergennes 9-1, but Vergennes did give Division II fourth place Harwood a run for their money, losing by a run 10-9. Vergennes split a pair of games with Missisquoi, who finished seventh in Division II. They won 9-4 before losing 5-2. Thus, Green Mountain is a strong number two seed, but there will be challenges along the way. Then, if the Chieftains advance to the finals, they will have another Windsor type team likely waiting in the wings.

Last year’s young team is a year older and McCarthy hopes the 2018 title defeat, 10-2 to the Yellow Jackets, which was a 3-2 game in the fifth, can find this group a little older but still young team, waiting more prepared for the task at hand. However, they lost 8-2 to top seed White River Valley down the stretch of the season, so it’s wait and see what happens.

McCarthy tells me, “I told them at the beginning of the season we would take things day by day and see where it goes.” If they advance to the finals and White River Valley is waiting, they will have had three more weeks of day by days to sort things out. It should prove to be interesting.”

It would be an upset of earthquake proportions if Black River fell to either Sharon or Mount Saint Joseph, so their first challenge should not come until possibly the semifinals. Unlike the Chieftains, who have a total of two seniors and juniors, Black River has six seniors, which should help their cause. However, fourth seeded Proctor did challenge them 9-7 before bowing in one of their regular season meetings. The Presidents won the other encounter 7-1.

Blue Mountain could eliminate Proctor and face O’Neil’s team instead in the semifinal. The Bucks played a very tough schedule and hold two wins over number two seed Danville, and they also split with number three seed Rivendell so they are not a team to take lightly at all. Black River defeated Blue Mountain in the tourney a year ago, before being thumped by eventual champion Danville 17-0. Danville is seeded second this year and Rivendell, who defeated Green Mountain 2-1 in an incredible pitching duel this spring, is third. Almost like the Chieftains, the Presidents are sitting nicely, but there is a long ways to go and certain level challenges ahead.

Black River has been working as hard as anyone to prepare, but the hurdle this spring’s weather has challenged them with is as strange as any high school baseball team has faced in this area, possibly ever. O’Neil’s wits have been tested with more gym baseball than any team I have ever heard of. Field conditions have limited Black River to only three home games, and they have not been able to have an outdoor practice all season. Ripley wouldn’t even believe that.

Black River and Green Mountain seeded one and two. Ready, set, go.

Bellows Falls track

Coach Tim Eno is usually trying to create ways to challenge his boys’ and girls’ track teams at this time of year as they have always been getting ready to chase yet another Division III state title. Things are much different this time around. Bellows Falls moved up to Division II and that in itself is an extreme challenge. Eno tells me, “We will be giving it our best shot. We won’t be the favorites this time and Hartford and Union-32 will be the boys’ biggest challenge with Hartford and Rice looking toughest to beat in the girls meet.”

Bellows Falls captured the big Marble Valley League Championship meet recently with both the boys’ and girls’ teams winning with Hartford behind the Terriers in both, but Eno, who always has the big meets figured out, says that the difference with the state meet is “more points are awarded up front with twice as many schools competing, and they have a fair amount of number one and two seeds in both genders. For us to win either meet, it would take a near perfect day.” You can bet Bellows Falls will find a way to be in the mix in the meet at South Burlington on Saturday, June 1.

The scores in the MVL title meet saw the boys with 118, Mount Anthony 102, Rutland 97, Hartford 90, Brattleboro 77, Burr & Burton 56, and Fair Haven 17. On the girls’ side, the Terriers had 177, Hartford 100, Burr & Burton 94.5, Brattleboro 93.5, Mount Anthony 40, Fair Haven 24, and Springfield 16.

Several Terriers qualified for the New England Meet to be held in two weeks at Thornton Academy in Saco, Maine. Those Terriers were Reno Tuttle in the shot put and discus. He hit the qualifying standard and finished first in both events and won the Trackmeister as the top field event performance. Abby Broadley qualified with a second in the 3,000, setting a new school record in the process. Jaden Luebbert had the numbers in winning the pole vault, while also setting the school record. Brigid Hodsden reached the New England with a fifth in the pole vault, setting a new personal best to get there. Emma Lawrence was also in, as a result of a fifth in the Shot Put and Macie Streeter’s fifth place Javelin Throw qualified her.

  North Walpole softball

Last week in saluting Anthony “Auntie” Jurkoic, I mentioned a North Walpole softball team that competed in the Brattleboro Softball League. In fact, one year in the mid-60s, this team from the metropolis of North Walpole captured the Brattleboro League title with an 18-2 record. In fact, one source tells me the team was so good the powers in Brattleboro encouraged the team to move to another league. So North Walpole moved on to Keene.

Auntie was the team’s beloved calm and collective catcher who was a stabilizing force for the team’s overall success. In doing research for last week’s Jurkoic salute, Junie Bousquet, the team’s left fielder, told me an out-of-character story about Jurkoic. One play during the North Walpole team run to a championship, Bousquet told me, “I will never forget one day, when there was a play at the plate and I had never seen Auntie react the way he did that day. He became violently mad and reacted to the call. It was so out of character for him.”

Giving older people and relatives a peek at the rest of the team back then, Bob McCormick and Dom Kissell were the pitchers, Bill Davis and McCormick both played first base, Tim Ryan was at second, Whitey O’Brien was the third baseman and Poody Walsh was the shortstop. Bousquet was in left next to his brother Phil, in center with Pete Oot in right. Dugan Shaughnessy coached the team. Obviously, some substitutes were needed, so the team brought along some much younger guys glad to fill in and that pair was Ron Golec and Alan Gaspardino.

Certainly a team worth remembering.

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