Assistant Sports Editor
CASTLETON -- The players of Essex Post 91 spent close to an hour Sunday afternoon watching from the first base line as a quicksilver Bennington team engineered a staggering comeback to beat Colchester, 16-15, in the bottom of the ninth inning.
On Monday, they were one hit away from learning how that felt.
Down but not out, Bennington Post 13 staged another late rally, this time stinging Post 91 for four runs in the ninth before coming up one run short, 11-10, as Essex claimed the Vermont American Legion baseball championship at Castleton State College.
It is the third year in a row that Post 13 takes the runner-up trophy back to the southwest corner of the state.
"They never said die, they didn’t give up," Post 13 coach Walt Parmenter said of his team. "We were one hit away, or a walk, and we’re right back here for another game."
Essex (29-7), which led 11-6 entering the last half-inning, picked up its seventh state title overall and first since 2010. Bennington (22-6) remains without a championship since 1998.
"There was no lead that I felt really comfortable with today, not the three-run lead, not even the five-run lead," Essex coach Todd Herrington said. "I just knew if the situation kind of came to life what could happen -- they were one good swing away from sending this to Game 2."
With one loss against them already in the double-elimination tournament, Post 13 needed a win to force a winner-take-all second game Monday.
Sam Spencer, Essex’s starting pitcher, held them to six runs on 12 hits but exited after walking Zach Bahan to start the ninth.
Closer Kevin Guild took the reins but, after striking out his first batter, soon got a dose of Bennington’s dramatic streak as Cameron Bow’s infield hit scored Bahan and the five-run lead became four.
"After yesterday, with the display they put on, it was a little daunting," Guild said.
"I was thinking what everybody was saying: Throw strikes," he said. "It’s tougher because with this team they crush a fastball, usually."
Guild walked in the next run and then saw Tyler Kunzmann (4-for-6) drive a two-run single through the left side of the infield to pull within one but struck out his final batter to end the threat and secure the championship.
"In the last three games we scored 42 runs -- that’s pretty damn good," Parmenter said. "We didn’t score that many runs in the first 12 games of the season.
"They peaked at the right time but, you know, one here or one there and it could be a different story."
Spencer earned the win with 10 strikeouts and four walks.
Matt Parmenter went the distance for Bennington to take the loss. He gave up 16 hits and struck out four but -- tossing off-speed pitches and keeping the ball low in the zone -- was only hit hard once.
He also helped his cause with a 2-for-5 day at the plate that included three RBIs and a go-ahead, two-run-single in the second inning.
"Matt did an awesome job, he did what we asked him to do. We just left too many men out there that we could’ve got in," Walt Parmenter said.
For Bennington, Nick Solari finished 3-for-5 with two runs scored while Cody LaFlamme also had a multi-hit day, going 2-for-5.
Reese Tanguay (two RBIs), Jack Valley (two RBIs) and Hudson Seman (three runs scored) each had three hits for Essex, which advances to the regional tournament in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, next weekend.
"Three years in a row Š one of these years we’re going to claim this thing. Holy cow," Walt Parmenter said. "We should have a good team again [next year]. They’ll be coming right back as long as everyone wants to play."
MVP: Nick Salerno, Essex. Catcher: Hudson Seman, Essex. Pitcher: Sam Spencer, Essex. First base: Tyler Kunzmann, Bennington. Second base: Matt Parmenter, Bennington. Shortstop: Jack Valley, Essex. Third base: Nick Swim, Colchester.
Outfield: Steve Jurkiewicz, Essex; Tyler Lord, South Burlington; Ian Shaw, Addison County.
Utility: Cody LaFlamme, Bennington; Kevin Guild, Essex; Ted Andrews, Essex; Sam Major, Rutland.