Essex – Noah Baez came out of the bullpen, working three and two thirds innings of hitless relief and delivered a pair of hits and drove in a pair of runs, leading the Essex Hornets past the St. Johnsbury Hilltoppers 8-2 in VPA State Tournament Division One playdown round action on Wednesday afternoon on the Essex Field.
Essex jumped on top in the first inning, as catcher Jacob Gaboriault ripped a two out two run double off St. Johnsbury starter Jarrett Bridges. But Bridges opened the second inning with a double of his own off the Hornets starter Jacob Benson, later scoring on a Jake Johnson sacrifice fly to cut the Essex lead to 2-1.
It stayed that way until the fourth. Entering the inning Benson had allowed just two hits and hadn’t walked a batter. But after he struck out Bridges to begin the fourth the plate started jumping around on him. He lost back to back hitters on three/two pitches, then walked two more, forcing in a run to tie the game at two. Enter Baez. Facing Garrett McDonald with the bases full he induced a heard one hopper to his brother Elijah, who combined with shortstop Joey Robertson to turn over a four/six/three doubleplay to get Essex out of the inning tied.
Then with one out in the bottom of the inning Baez singled. His courtesy runner Mason Yandow went all the way to third on an error on a pickoff attempt and scored on an infield single by Jeremy LeClair to give the Hornets the lead back.
Essex added a fourth run in the fifth on a two out bases loaded catcher’s interference call, and then blew the game wide open with four more in the sixth. Robertson singled in a run, Gaboriault delivered another with a squeeze bunt, and Baez capped the rally with a two run single. On the hill meanwhile the left hander allowed just one base runner in earning the victory.
LeClair led Essex, reaching base four times with three hits and a walk, scoring twice and driving in a run. Gaboriault drove in three runs and Patrick Brodeur scored three as Essex improved to 11-6. They will play at top seeded BFA St.Albans in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Second inning doubles by Bridges and Sam Grenier were the only two hits of the day for the Hilltoppers who saw their season end at 8-8.