By Ted Ryan
Helping Rice Memorial win its first Vermont high school baseball championship in 50 years might be the highlight of William Hesslink’s young career, but a semifinal victory over Champlain Valley presented emotional challenges of its own.
That afternoon, Hesslink hooked up with CVU’s Rayne Supple in a pitchers’ duel and the Redhawks knew Hesslink as well as he knew them.
“I had a lot of friends I played against in that game, friends I played since I was a kid in either Shelburne Little League or Legion baseball,” said the Shelburne native, a 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore. “I knew it was going to be tough. That lineup is good and they fight hard. I knew we weren’t going to win easily.
“Rayne Supple is a great pitcher as well as a hitter. I’ve played with him forever. We’re pretty good friends and I knew he could do a lot of damage,” Hesslink recalled.
As two-time defending champions, the Redhawks were tourney-tested and confident, but Hesslink pitched a five-hitter, striking out five and yielding a single walk in the 2-1 win. Supple lost his one-hitter.
“Probably the biggest thing was getting up early in the count,” said Hesslink of his performance. “I was not trying to do too much, like striking everyone out. I just let my defense do it.”
That sent Rice to the title game against South Burlington. The Green Knights scored early and often in the 15-3 victory at Centennial Field. Hesslink gave up eight hits, struck out seven, walked one, drove in a run with a single and started a game-ending double play.
“It really feels great, especially with the team we had. They’re all great guys and we came together as a team,” Hesslink said.
“Scoring the four runs in the first inning was huge,” the left-hander said. “Going out there in the second having a pretty comfortable lead was great. I wasn’t really laid back but I was just making pitches. The whole team relaxed and we just played our game. It was ‘We can do this; we know we can play with them.’” Hesslink also pitched well in earlier tournament victories over Mount Anthony and Rutland.
Hesslink, who also played hockey for Rice, said baseball is his first love. “I guess just getting out on the field on a nice day …. It feels great.”
During the summer months, Hesslink plans to take advantage of his job at Vermont National Country Club to work on his game. The son of Geoff and Cynthia Hesslink, he has an older brother, Geoff, and a younger sister, Katherine.
He’ll also play baseball for — of all teams — the South Burlington American Legion team. His former team, S.D. Ireland, did not suit up this year.
“I would say I need to work on getting my off-speed pitch to work a little more,” said Hesslink, whose fastball registers in the low 80s. “I want to make sure I get my command down and hopefully add a few MPH on my fastball.”
Since Rice had a relatively young team, especially with the pitching corps, Hesslink and the Green Knights should have a solid foundation upon which to build a successful defense next spring.