Oshoniyi leads Thetford past WRV for Panthers’ first baseball title since ‘86

Thetford coach Phil Chaput gets a fist bump from the umpires before Saturday's D-III championship game in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Thetford coach Phil Chaput gets a fist bump from the umpires before Saturday's D-III championship game in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Freshman Xander Oshoniyi started for the Panthers Saturday in the D-III finals against White River Valley. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Freshman Xander Oshoniyi started for the Panthers Saturday in the D-III finals against White River Valley. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Thetford players celebrate with the D-III baseball trophy after the team's decisive win over White River Valley on Saturday in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Thetford players celebrate with the D-III baseball trophy after the team's decisive win over White River Valley on Saturday in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald) Tim Calabro—The White River Valley Herald

Freshman Xander Oshoniyi started for the Panthers Saturday in the D-III finals against White River Valley. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Freshman Xander Oshoniyi started for the Panthers Saturday in the D-III finals against White River Valley. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald) Tim Calabro—The White River Valley Herald

White River Valley's Wyatt Cadwell takes a lead off first as Thetford's Justin Robinson covers the base Saturday in the D-III championship game in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

White River Valley's Wyatt Cadwell takes a lead off first as Thetford's Justin Robinson covers the base Saturday in the D-III championship game in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald) Tim Calabro—The White River Valley Herald

Thetford's Xander Oshoniyi delivers a pitch during Saturday's D-III championship game at Centennial Field. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Thetford's Xander Oshoniyi delivers a pitch during Saturday's D-III championship game at Centennial Field. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald) Tim Calabro—The White River Valley Herald

Thetford senior Jacob Gilman cheers after a double during Saturday's D-III championship game. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Thetford senior Jacob Gilman cheers after a double during Saturday's D-III championship game. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald) Tim Calabro—The White River Valley Herald

Thetford senior Nolan Pepe dives back to first base, covered by Donovan Craven during a White River Valley pick-off attempt Saturday at the D-III championship in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Thetford senior Nolan Pepe dives back to first base, covered by Donovan Craven during a White River Valley pick-off attempt Saturday at the D-III championship in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald) Tim Calabro—The White River Valley Herald

Thetford's Xander Oshoniyi slides safely into home over the leap of White River Valley catcher Brayden Russ during Saturday's D-III championship game at Centennial Field. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Thetford's Xander Oshoniyi slides safely into home over the leap of White River Valley catcher Brayden Russ during Saturday's D-III championship game at Centennial Field. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald) Tim Calabro—The White River Valley Herald

Jacob Gilman just makes it to third for Thetford ahead of a throw while White River Valley's Ty Couture covers the bag. The Panthers bested the Wildcats during Saturday's D-III championship game in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Jacob Gilman just makes it to third for Thetford ahead of a throw while White River Valley's Ty Couture covers the bag. The Panthers bested the Wildcats during Saturday's D-III championship game in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

White River Valley's Jacob Benoit slides into first ahead of a pick-off attempt while Thetford's Justin Robinson covers the base during Saturday's D-III championship in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

White River Valley's Jacob Benoit slides into first ahead of a pick-off attempt while Thetford's Justin Robinson covers the base during Saturday's D-III championship in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald) Tim Calabro—The White River Valley Herald

Thetford players celebrate with the D-III baseball trophy after the team's decisive win over White River Valley on Saturday in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Thetford players celebrate with the D-III baseball trophy after the team's decisive win over White River Valley on Saturday in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald) Tim Calabro—The White River Valley Herald

Thetford players converge in a group hug after winning the D-III championship over White River Valley Saturday at Burlington's Centennial Field. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Thetford players converge in a group hug after winning the D-III championship over White River Valley Saturday at Burlington's Centennial Field. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald) The White River Valley Herald photographs– Tim Calabro

Thetford players celebrate with the D-III baseball trophy after the team's decisive win over White River Valley on Saturday in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Thetford players celebrate with the D-III baseball trophy after the team's decisive win over White River Valley on Saturday in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald) Tim Calabro—The White River Valley Herald

Thetford's Owen Goodrich makes a throw from shortstop for an out during the Panther's D-III championship win over White River Valley Saturday at Centennial Field in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Thetford's Owen Goodrich makes a throw from shortstop for an out during the Panther's D-III championship win over White River Valley Saturday at Centennial Field in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald) Tim Calabro—The White River Valley Herald

Closer JD Farrell cheers after delivering the final pitch in Thetford's D-III championship win over White River Valley's Wildcats Saturday in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Closer JD Farrell cheers after delivering the final pitch in Thetford's D-III championship win over White River Valley's Wildcats Saturday in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald) The White River Valley Herald photographs – Tim Calabro

Thetford's seniors, Nolan Pepe and Jacob Gilman carry the D-III baseball title trophy after the Panthers' win over White River Valley on Saturday in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Thetford's seniors, Nolan Pepe and Jacob Gilman carry the D-III baseball title trophy after the Panthers' win over White River Valley on Saturday in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald) Tim Calabro—The White River Valley Herald

Thetford's seniors, Nolan Pepe and Jacob Gilman carry the D-III baseball title trophy after the Panthers' win over White River Valley on Saturday in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald)

Thetford's seniors, Nolan Pepe and Jacob Gilman carry the D-III baseball title trophy after the Panthers' win over White River Valley on Saturday in Burlington. (Tim Calabro / White River Valley Herald) Tim Calabro—The White River Valley Herald

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-11-2023 8:43 AM

BURLINGTON — Xander Oshoniyi may have fallen three outs shy of a no-hitter, but leading the Thetford Academy baseball team to its first state championship in 37 years as a freshman still makes for a pretty good Saturday.

Oshoniyi baffled the White River Valley lineup for six innings, striking out eight and retiring 13 in a row at one point to help the No. 3 seed Panthers to a 6-0 victory at Centennial Field over the fifth-seeded Wildcats. The title is just the second in program history, with the other coming in 1986.

“This is what we work for all season,” Oshoniyi said. “(The no-hitter) is not something you really focus on. Just try to go out there, throw strikes, throw a good game. In the end we got the win, and that’s all that matters.”

Thetford’s offense wasted no time giving Oshoniyi the lead — and the pitcher himself got things started by lining a ball to left field to start the bottom of the first that Wildcat sophomore Holden Rediker misjudged, allowing Oshoniyi to end up with a triple. A throwing error by WRV senior pitcher Robby McShinsky on a pickoff attempt sent Oshoniyi home with the game’s first run.

The Panthers (14-6) did not stop there. Senior second baseman Nolan Pepe drew a walk, moved to second on a balk and scored when junior first baseman Justin Robinson doubled down the right-field line. Robinson came in to score on a single by senior center fielder Jacob Gilman to make it a 3-0 game.

“It was huge for us (to get) the three runs early,” Thetford coach Phil Chaput said. “It kind of put them on their heels. We knew Xander, through all of the playoff starts he’s had, he’s been pretty locked in all the way through, so we thought we had a pretty good shot once we got those three.”

McShinsky settled down after the first inning, but lost a bit of command in the fourth, walking back-to-back hitters and allowing a single to load the bases. With the top of the Panthers’ lineup set to come up for the third time, the Wildcats (14-6) brought in sophomore Wyatt Cadwell, who had started the game at shortstop. Cadwell struck out two to escape the inning, but not before issuing a walk to Pepe that brought in Thetford’s fourth tally.

By then, Oshoniyi was in total control. He issued two-out walks in each of the first two innings had to strand two runners in scoring position in the second after an error, but from there he was dominant, striking out five straight batters between the fourth and fifth innings.

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“We just really couldn’t get on,” WRV coach Devin Cilley said. “He threw some strikes early. I felt like we were right on him; he just missed our (barrels) a little bit. That’s the game of baseball.”

The Panthers added two more in the sixth. Having gotten away with two intentional walks earlier in the game, the Wildcats issued an intentional free pass to Robinson to load the bases with two outs, but freshman JD Farrell made them pay this time with a single to center, extending the Thetford lead to six.

That left it up to Oshoniyi to finish his bid for history. But Ty Couture, WRV’s freshman third baseman, led off the seventh by banging a sharply-hit single up the middle. Following another single by junior center fielder Tattin Griffin, Oshoniyi’s day was done, and Farrell recorded the final three outs on a force play at third and back-to-back strikeouts.

This was the first time since White River Valley was created out of the merger of South Royalton and Whitcomb-Rochester that the Wildcats did not bring home a baseball state title. WRV won a Division III crown in 2019 and D-IV championships the last two years before coming up just short after bumping back up a division this spring.

The Wildcats were a bit fortunate with how the bracket played out, getting to host No. 13 seed Windsor and No. 8 seed Vergennes instead of traveling to No. 4 BFA-Fairfax and top-seeded Hazen in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.

McShinsky and outfielder Loren Young are the Cats’ lone seniors.

“Hopefully everyone else will be back, and we will hopefully be here next year doing the same thing, but maybe on the other end of it,” Cilley said. “I’ve been very impressed with the boys all season. It took everything we had to get back here.”

Likewise, Thetford loses just two seniors in Gilman and Pepe, and with Oshoniyi and catcher Andrew Spooner forming an all-freshman battery, the Panthers should also be well-positioned to remain in contention. Thetford lost in the title game in 2021 and has now reached at least the semifinals in the last four postseasons.

“I hope this gives them a taste of where they can go. The only way they can go is up,” Chaput said. “I know we’re state champions right now, but hopefully it drives them to continue to get better because now everyone’s going to come for us. We’ve got the bulls-eye on our back.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.