White River Valley baseball again in thick of state title conversation

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-17-2023 7:06 PM

SOUTH ROYALTON — The outfield fence at the White River Valley baseball field needed a slight makeover before this season.

Markers honoring state championships won by both WRV and its predecessor, South Royalton High, hang on the wall near the right field foul pole. The Wildcats have been crowned champions in each of their three seasons since the school was created out of the merger of South Royalton and Whitcomb-Rochester, leaving space on the fence scarce — to the point where the markers had to be shifted over to create room for one more.

If this year’s team is going to fill that last empty space, it will be with a much different cast than the group that won the VPA Division IV title last June. WRV lost nine seniors from the 2022 squad, seven of whom started in the title game.

“The last few years we’ve had a lot of older kids, so they’ve gone through everything we normally do in the preseason, so it flows pretty well,” Wildcats coach Devin Cilley said. “It just took a little bit longer than normal to get into that groove, just because we have a bunch of new ones who haven’t played for us before. I feel like we’re finally over the hump and in a good spot.”

WRV (9-3) has just two seniors this year, and Robby McShinsky is the only returning 12th grader. But with 26 players overall on the roster, up from 19 last year, Cilley’s team is deep as it has ever been, even with six underclassmen in the lineup on Tuesday against Northfield.

After winning their last two championships in Division IV, the Wildcats moved back up to D-III this year, where they won their first post-merger title in 2019. Their schedule didn’t change much, though — WRV was playing against mostly D-III teams already in the Southern Vermont League’s C Division.

“Last year, coming into the season, we basically knew what we had, where everybody was going to go,” Cilley said. “This year we knew a few of them, but it took a little bit to learn where everybody needed to be, and we’re still getting through that. It may not be their best position, but it may be what’s going to work best for us.”

The Wildcats opened the season with three straight wins, all by at least five runs, but then suffered a 10-3 loss to a sub-.500 Randolph team on April 20. WRV bounced back with a blowout win at Oxbow before being dealt another setback, this one a 9-2 home defeat against Thetford, a fellow Division III title contender. Since then, the Cats have won five of six, but the lone loss in that stretch was to another sub-.500 team in Woodstock.

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Still, WRV has rounded into form of late, and the program’s pedigree will make the Wildcats a unit few teams want to face in the playoffs. McShinsky, the team’s No. 2 pitcher last year, earned a complete-game win in the 2022 championship game against Blue Mountain, and he’s become the ace this season. He threw just 56 pitches in a five-inning, complete-game victory Tuesday as WRV routed the Marauders, 12-1, and he also picked off two runners at first base in the same inning.

“When I was in elementary school, I looked up to the kids playing here,” McShinsky said. “We’ve definitely worked our way to this point.”

Sophomore Wyatt Cadwell and freshman Ty Couture have also performed capably on the mound, and apart from the three losses, the pitching staff hasn’t lacked for run support. The Wildcats have averaged more than 11 runs per game in their nine wins and are getting contributions throughout the lineup.

Cadwell was 3-for-3 against Northfield and scored three runs, Couture tripled and scored twice and freshman Jacob Benoit, hitting in the No. 9 hole, reached base in all three trips to the plate with a walk and two singles, including a two-run base hit in the third inning that helped break the game open.

“We were kind of streaky hitting, and now it’s starting to come together,” Cadwell said. “We’re starting to hit more as a unit, top of the order all the way through to nine. We’re clicking.”

WRV has been fortunate to mostly avoid rainouts over the last month and has just four regular-season games remaining. Two are against teams the Wildcats have soundly defeated in Mill River and Springfield, but two are against an 11-1 Green Mountain team that they could see in the later rounds of the postseason. The Cats will host Green Mountain on Friday, then will head to Chester, Vt., for a rematch on Tuesday.

“They have finally figured out what it really takes to have a good team,” Cilley said. “A lot of them hadn’t played a ton before this year, so they didn’t really know. Those guys I had last year, they knew what it took to win a state championship because they’d won. Somebody coming in, they don’t really understand how much work and time it takes to actually do that.

“Over the last couple weeks, they’ve figured that out and they’re starting to really play well.”

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

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