By: Alex Paduch, Contributor
Warm sunshine, professional facilities and the opportunity to play ball outside in February is a dream for college baseball players anywhere, but even more so for a Vermont team. This year, Lyndon State Baseball continued their tradition of a spring training trip to Florida, packing ten baseball games into a week time-span.
The RussMatt tournament is the largest collegiate baseball tournament in the country, hosting over 100 teams from Division Three all the way to a select few Division One programs. The facilities were created for professionals; to close out their time in the Sunshine State, Lyndon played at the former spring training home of the Cleveland Indians.
While the trip is technically the start to their season, the work started long before the team’s Southwest Airlines flight left for Orlando. For months, the team has been attending strength and conditioning sessions, conducting fielding drills in the Standard Gymnasium, and undergoing roster cuts. According to senior Michael Raimondi, it’s all part of the job.
“We face adversity everyday playing baseball in Northern Vermont. The coaching staff and the players know what to expect and grind through everything that we face”, Raimondi said.
When the players arrived in Orlando, they were shuttled off in team vans to their homes for the week. Technically, the team rented out 5 top-notch town homes, which helped add to the professional feel of a “business trip”, as Head Coach Tom White put it.
“The whole program is on the rise–it’s true, but we’re not rebuilding. We’re here to compete and here to win games”, said Junior pitcher Jeff Williams.
After squeezing in a shortened practice due to torrential downpours on their first day, the Hornets dug right into a doubleheader for day two. For the first 7 games of the trip, the team played at the Lake Myrtle Sports Complex in Auburndale. This was the first test of the season for Lyndon, and the Hornets delivered against Houghton College of New York. Led by number one starting pitcher Jeff Williams, the Hornets were able to endure a pitchers duel to come out on top after the full seven innings were played.
“We played to our strengths. The defense played great behind me and we just ate up everything”, said Williams. “Just knowing that we’re the best and that no one can beat us gives us that confidence that we can do whatever we want.”
The storyline for game two was very, very different. The bats for both teams exploded during different parts of the game, and seven innings just was not enough to decide the winner. The game rolled on into the tenth inning, tied 5-5.
Houghton brought in two more runs in the top of the tenth, and Lyndon was unable to seal the deal.
“It’s tough to win both games of a doubleheader”, said White.
Fast forward to Monday, and the Hornets were set to square-off against the Milwaukee School of Engineering (WI). Coming off an off day full of rest and a couple of impromptu beach volleyball games the day before, the team was ready to get down to business. The day was split between the two teams. Oddly enough, the final scores of both games was 6-4, with Lyndon winning game one and MSOE taking game two.
“Of course you want to win every game you play, but that can’t always happen”, said Raimondi. “I was proud of the way our team—and especially the young players—battled and competed until the final out.”
For the last two days, the team was in Winter Haven the old spring training home of the Cleveland Indians. The last game proved to be an instant classic. The Hornets faced Lourdes (OH) in a nine-inning thriller. Lourdes began the game strong, maintaining a 3-0 lead after three innings.
In the fourth, the Hornets began to rally back, coming within one run. Fast forwarding to the seventh inning, Lourdes struck again, scoring another three runs. The score would remain at 6-2 until the top of the ninth inning—Lyndon’s final chance in the Sunshine State.
Lyndon was able to get the bases loaded with no outs, and that’s where the fun began. The Hornets were able to chip away at Lourde’s closer, tying the game 6-6. Then Jake Jourdain stepped into the box. With the bases loaded with two outs, he brought in two runs off a single, giving the Hornets their first lead of the game, and setting up Andrew Whalen to close.
Whalen was able to seal the deal, and solidify the unbelievable, last minute comeback to top off the trip.
While the men went 3-7 on the trip, they had three more wins than they did last year. The season is young, and according to Raimondi, the best is yet to come.
“We played competitive ball in eight out of the ten games in Florida, which has given us a lot of confidence heading into our conference schedule… or something. The last thing I would say is that we have a great group of guys who are hungry to get after it, and we expect a lot out of ourselves.”