EAST MONTPELIER — The U-32 baseball team gave up three runs in Thursday’s first inning but battled back behind starting pitcher Owen Kellington to down Lake Region, 4-3.
Kellington was uncharacteristically off at the start of the game. However, he settled in nicely for the following five innings and his team rallied with a pair of runs in the third inning and another pair in the fifth. Over six innings, Kellington struck out 13 batters and walked zero to earn the win. U-32’s Ryder Huffman took over on the mound during the seventh inning. And while Lake Region’s Aiden Grassley reached on an error and made his way to third, Huffman struck out the final two batters to secure the victory.
Lake Region coach Shawn Perron knew coming in that if his team was to have a chance against one of the better hurlers in Vermont, the Rangers would have to get to Kellington in the first few innings and hopefully drive him from the game. The Rangers won the Vermont Division II baseball championship last year, and against U-32 their plan was to put the ball in play and capitalize on any mistakes in the field. Of course, when Kellington finally found his curveball to mix in with his blistering fastball, his team only had to make five defensive plays behind him.
“We knew facing him that we had to jump on him early and take advantage of the mistakes if he made them early,” Perron said. “I thought we did that early, but then he found his groove and pitched a (great) game. Our top to middle of the lineup did a good job of challenging him with some good at-bats.”
Just call him “Mowin’ Owen.”
Kellington technically struck out Dylan Gagnon, the first batter of the game. But after the swing, Gagnon alertly sprinted for first after the ball escaped from Raider catcher Carter Huffman. Lake Region’s Riley Burdick reached on an error at third and the Rangers were successfully following the game plan. Gagnon ended up being tagged out while trying to take third, but Parker Perron responded by lacing a double to right-center to drive in Burdick for a 1-0 lead.
The next batter, Logan Ingalls, followed with another double to drive in Perron and it was quickly 2-0. Ingalls stole third and scampered home to make it 3-0 when another ball found its way to the backstop. Kellington struck out the next two batters to end the inning.
“I didn’t have my ‘A’ stuff ready from the get-go,” Kellington said. “They hit some balls that I left up in the zone so I had to get it down. I felt like I did a good job dialing it back in and just finding what was working for me with my curveball and mixing that in with the changeup.”
Kellington struck out the side in the top of the second inning.
The Raiders got on the board in the bottom of the third. An error allowed Kellington to reach first base and then Owen Guthrie was hit by a pitch. Carter Pelzel (2-for-3) brought home Kellington and reached on an error. Ryder Huffman brought Guthrie in later with a sacrifice fly to left to make it 3-2.
Meanwhile, the Rangers were having fits catching up to Kellington. The Raiders ace was locked in on the mound, allowing just one hit the rest of the way and striking out six of the next nine batters.
In the bottom of the fifth, both Kellington and Guthrie reached base again — Kellington with a walk and Guthrie on a catcher’s interference call. Pelzel launched a double to right center that brought Kellington home to tie the game. Guthrie was later cut down on a botched squeeze play at home, but Ryder Huffman (1-for-1, two RBIs) lifted a sacrifice fly to center to bring Pelzel home to put the Raiders on top 4-3.
“It was a little rough at first but Owen finally got dialed in,” catcher Carter Huffman said. “We knew we needed to get the bats going and that I needed to do a better job blocking the balls in the dirt. Overall, we just kept wheeling and dealing and kept going.”
“This is not the first time we’ve done this,” U-32 coach Geoff Green said. “We had a couple of games where we got down early and managed to scratch and claw our way back into it. The opportunities that we did get to defend we made the fundamental plays. We kept telling the guys to work the count, get a pitch to hit and swing hard.”
U-32 (6-2) will host Thetford at 11 a.m. Saturday. Lake Region (3-6) will host Harwood the same day.