BURLINGTON — A recent game had just ended and Adam Greenlese was not pleased. He pulled his Fair Haven Slaters into a tight circle and told them to start getting serious about baseball.
Did they ever.
Sparked by a bizarre run that launched a three-run rally and buoyed by the standout pitching of Aubrey Ramey, the Slaters won their first state title since 1991, 3-1 over rival Otter Valley Friday at Centennial Field.
“They really bounced back,” said Greenlese. “They knew they were too good to lose in the playoffs.”
So was Ramey, 3-0 in this Division II tournament. He allowed one earned run in his 20.1 innings and still had plenty in the tank, retiring 15 of his last 16 batters in front of a spirited Centennial Field crowd.
He spaced four hits and struck out 10, his second double-digit strikeout performance against the No. 1, 18-2 Otters.
“That’s what I knew he could do,” said Greenlese, a former pitching star at Castleton. “He just got stronger and stronger and stronger.”
The Slaters scored all of their runs in the third inning against Josh Beayon, who had won two playoff games. Beayon surrendered six hits, two by Evan Reed, while striking out four and walking as many.
The Slaters’ first run was strange indeed. Austin Beayon tripled and with Ramey at the plate broke for home on a suicide squeeze play. Ramey never offered at the pitch and Beayon was on his own in no-man’s land. The brief rundown seemed to end when third baseman Nate Hudson made an apparent tag for the out; Hudson then stopped dead in his tracks, as if satisfied the play was over.
But no “out” call was ever made. Beayon, who had started back toward the dugout, then rushed back to tag the plate and was ruled safe, to the protests of OV coach Mike Howe and a vocal rooting contingent.
“Nate stopped and the runner stopped,” Howe said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The Slaters weren’t finished. Parker Morse walked, Aaron Szabo roped a double down the left field line, and both runners scored on a two-out throwing error for a 3-0 lead.
The Otters came back in the home third when Reilly Shannon singled and scored on Patrick McKeighan’s sacrifice fly but the Otters left two men aboard and settled for a 3-1 score.
“We just couldn’t get that one more hit,” Howe said.
The third-seeded Slaters finished the season at 14-5, two of their losses to the Otters.
“We said to each other it’s hard to beat a team three times,” Ramey said. “They beat us twice in basketball and we went to their house and smacked them.”
The Slaters threatened again in the fifth after a two-base throwing error but Beayon toughened and logged his third and fourth strikeouts to end the frame with the runner in scoring position.
Ramey kept it at 3-1 in the home fifth when he induced a fly ball and a pop-up, which he gloved for the third out, with an Otter on second.
The Slaters led the sixth with singles by Dylan Lee and Reed but with the bases loaded and one out, Kollin Bissette started a 4-6-3 double play to end the frame.
Both teams gave the crowd something to cheer with sparkling defensive plays.
Beayon picked off the first Slater to get a hit, with Brett Huntley tagged out in a rundown between first and second after his leadoff single in the second inning.
Slaters shortstop Morse made a nice backhand stab of a hard hopper to turn a potential hit by Alex Polli into a force-out in the bottom of the same inning. Bissette had led that inning with a single.
In the Fair Haven fifth Otters third baseman Hudson made a long run and a dive to glove Andrew Lanthier’s twisting pop deep in foul ground.
Otters second baseman Bissette made a tumbling, going-away catch on Lanthier’s looper to shallow center to lead the seventh.
It was a tough ending for seven Otters seniors and a sweet one for seven Slaters.
“They never took a day off,” said Howe. “They just show up and work. It’s been a lot of fun working with them the past four years.”
Greenlese started working with his seniors as a JV coach before taking the he head job three years ago. Last year ended with a tough semis loss at Lake Region but Greenlese was confident all season that he had the team to beat.
“They’re such a good group of guys and it’s been fun to be a part of,” he said.
Particularly when it ends like this.
“I knew it could happen,” Greenlese said. “But it’s been like chasing a unicorn.”
But there’s nothing mythical about this championship,