Winning a state championship is something that can transcend the playing field.
The playoff push brings a community together. It brings parents, grandparents, siblings, alumni and town store owners, among so many more, on a ride with a group of teens that just love game.
It’s not an easy thing to accomplish, just ask the teams remaining in the Vermont high school baseball playoffs.
Defending state champions CVU and White River Valley both have reached the mountain top recently, but before the Redhawks win in 2019, it had been six years since CVU won a state title, or an eternity in Hinesburg time.
The Redhawks, with some of the preeminent sports programs in the state, have only won a state championship four times in their history, a testament to how hard it truly is to reach the top.
Division IV finalist Blue Mountain won a title six years ago, but outside the Bucks and the two defending champions, all other five teams remaining haven’t won a title within the last decade and half, and for most, it’s been much longer than that.
CVU’s D-I opponent Brattleboro last won a title in 2004, where the Colonels beat Essex.
Division III championship opponents Peoples Academy and Thetford Academy have one title apiece to their name. The Wolves championship came in 1993 and the Panthers’ was in 1986.
In Division II, Spaulding, who moved to D-II this season, hasn’t won a state title since 1990 and U-32 has never won a title.
A handful of teams are about change history this weekend. Which four teams will grab brass ring?
Division IThe most consistently good team from the northern half of the state and the best from the southern half, the D-I championship between No. 1 CVU and No. 3 Brattleboro figures to be a fun one.
As previously mentioned, the Redhawks are coming off the championship in 2019 and they’ve been just as strong this spring.
In the D-I semifinals against a Rice club that had beaten CVU once before, the Redhawks showed up in a big way, winning going away 11-1. The pitching of Oliver Pudvar and a strong offensive attack did the trick.
CVU, like it is every year, is as battled-tested as they come playing the gauntlet of a schedule the Metro region brings on.
Brattleboro didn’t play any of those northern clubs, outside of St. Johnsbury, but has proven it can handle them throughout the playoffs, beating Colchester in the quarterfinals and many people’s preseason favorite Essex in the semifinals.
With a pitching staff led by Zinabu McNiece and lineup with power hitters like Jack Pattison, the Colonels are a balanced group.
The D-I championship is set for 3 p.m. on Sunday at Burlington’s Centennial Field.
Division IIThe Division II championship is a central Vermonter’s dream and what a great dream that would be.
While the D-II semifinals saw teams with similar strengths going at it, the finals between No. 2 Spaulding and No. 5 U-32 has clubs with opposing strengths.
For Spaulding, it’s all about offense. The Crimson Tide scored 10 or more runs in 10 of their 15 regular season games, some of which were only five innings games because of the 10-run rule.
Their lineup is loaded with Zach Stabell, Cole McAllister, Grady Chase and Trevor Arsenault among the many standouts.
Hayden Kennedy got the win on the mound for Spaulding in the semifinals against Enosburg. Arsenault was winning pitcher in the quarterfinals and Kieran McNamara got the save against Mount Abraham.
The Tide’s lone regular season losses came to D-I South Burlington and Mount Abraham, who they finished the year 3-1 against.
U-32’s strength is its pitching staff and that starts with Owen Kellington, who turns in lights out start after lights out start. In the semifinals against previously unbeaten Hartford, he struck out 17 batters and allowed just three hits. Those types of performances are par for the course for Kellington.
Alex Keane and Carter Hoffman are good complements on the pitching staff as well.
Peter Cioffi and Tony Concessi were standouts offensively in the semifinal against the Hurricanes with Kellington being a consistent power presence in the Raiders’ lineup.
U-32 has been great all year about manufacturing runs, being opportunistic with the bat in its hands or on the basepaths.
Whether it’s the Raiders’ first title in program history or the Tide’s first title in 31 years, history will be made this weekend.
The D-II final is set for Sunday at 11 a.m. at Centennial Field.
Division III has been one of the most wide open divisions throughout the 2021 baseball season, but when the playoffs commenced chalk has pretty much held with No. 1 Thetford and No. 2 Peoples as the two remaining clubs.
The Panthers used a big second-inning to best No. 5 Hazen in the semifinals 11-10. Their offense has made a habit of coming through in important games. It served them well during an 8-7 against U-32 on May 20.
Peoples has had a tough road to the finals. After winning against Mill River in the first round, the Wolves bested a Green Mountain club that is much better than its under .500 record let on, before beating a Vergennes team that was playing some of its best baseball coming into the semifinals.
Ben Alekson has been a standout on the mound and at the plate for Peoples.
The clubs meet at 7 p.m. on Sunday at Centennial Field.
There doesn’t seem to be anyone who can stop No. 1 seed White River Valley in Division IV, but No. 2 Blue Mountain surely feels like it could be the team to knock them off.
Since becoming a school, the Wildcats have not lost a baseball game, winning the 2019 title in D-III before moving to D-IV for this year.
White River Valley has been a runaway train in D-IV and it showed in a dominant win against Proctor in the state semifinals. The Phantoms are a solid club, but a relentless attack by the Wildcats was too much for Proctor to handle.
Carder Stratton, Jacob Barry, Dominic Craven and Alex Lober were just a few of the many offensive standouts in the game and throughout the season for the undefeated Wildcats.
With a pitching staff that can match its offense, White River Valley has sights on a championship.
The Bucks have been plenty impressive in their own right. They hold wins over Peoples and Hazen in the regular season and a win against a really strong Arlington club in the state semifinals.
Even more impressive, they lost by just one run to White River Valley on May 25.
While the Wildcats have to be the favorite, Blue Mountain would love to knock the champions off their perch.
They get their chance on Friday at 6 p.m. at Centennial Field.