Returning as favorites, BBA plays for title

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MANCHESTER — When the Burr and Burton baseball team reached the Division I final last season, it was seen to many as a surprise. The Bulldogs upset two higher seeds before losing to St. Johnsbury in the title game.

It was a Cinderella story.

Fast forward 364 days and this time BBA comes in as one of the favorites, a 16-2 No. 2 seed that will look to win the Division I crown against No. 1 seed Essex on Saturday night at Centennial Field in Burlington.

"Last year was an eye-opener for us to be on the big stage," said senior Griff Stalcup. "Going into last year, no one had any thought that we would get there. No one in the state did. Last year didn't end up the way we wanted. This year we're coming back with a calm approach at the plate, seeing more pitches and not swinging at the first one."

Six of the nine starters on Saturday started last year's game, so the experience of being at Centennial Field will not be new.

"From an experience standpoint, that's a huge factor," said coach Ed Lewicki. "Being here two years in a row, we get rid of the awe of being in the championship game. We've never played that favorite role all year. We had our hands full with Burlington in the semifinal and now we're playing Essex, who is the top seed for a reason."

Burr and Burton comes into the game on a 7-game win streak, including the three playoff games, where they topped Spaulding, Rutland for the third time this season and then Burlington.

Since an uncharacteristic loss to Bellows Falls on May 15, Lewicki said the thought changed from worrying about their opponent to worrying about themselves.

"It's not about the opponent, it's about did we play our best and to our potential," Lewicki said. "If we do what we're capable of doing, then [we can win]. I think we're much more patient offensively, we can hit anybody in the state. It's contagious, once we get going. I hope to see it on Saturday.

On the mound, the Bulldogs have been stingy, allowing around two runs a game. No. 1 starter Jay McCoy, who pitched a complete game in the semifinal win, is unavailable for the championship, leaving Lewicki to decided by Stalcup, the No. 2 or Sam Cottrell, his No. 3 starter.

"Sam is 5-1 with an ERA under 2. He's got a three-pitch repertoire, he's a good high school pitcher and his record speaks for itself," Lewicki said. "He's pitched in quality games, he got the win in our first playoff game. He's got the experience, we're confident with either one. It'll be a game-time decision."

If Stalcup is pushed into service on the mound in the title game, he's fine with that. Along with last year's title game in baseball, Stalcup reached the D-II football championship game two years in a row as well, so the big stage is nothing new.

"It's nice to be on the mound when you know you have a tremendous defense behind you," Stalcup said. "We play pretty much error-free baseball, which is all you can ask for. If we play our game, the only team that can beat us is ourselves. If we score early and often, we'll be all set. If we can make the plays we should make, if we can keep our cool, I think we'll end up just fine."

On offense, the entire order has contributed, from 1 through 9. Their key is to be patient, unlike last year, when the Bulldogs made 11 first-pitch outs against St. Johnsbury's Patrick Greenan.

"We were a little anxious last year, but this year going into the championship, we're calm," said senior leadoff hitter James Reilly. "We've been there before, we have nothing to lose at this point, because we've had the feeling of losing that game [last year]. Once our offense gets going, it's hard to stop us."

The lineup has a different look than it did on opening day. At first, Daniel Hatheway led off with Reilly in the No. 2 spot. Now, Reilly leads off, McCoy is higher up in the order with the left-handed Stalcup, who is batting over .400 this season in between.

"The first way the lineup was constructed, the total production wasn't where it should be, even though we won," Lewicki said. "With this formula, I think we've scored nine runs a game or something, so when we score, it's not too many times we don't put up a crooked number on the board. But we'll see if we can do it in a championship format."

With BBA's graduation today, the seniors hope that the celebration from today will carry over.

"It's going to be quite a weekend with graduation on Friday," Stalcup said. "I think a lot of the parents of the players have been watching games for the past 10 years of us playing baseball, and we've grown relationships on and off the field, we're a close group. It will be pretty cool to go out this way, the last baseball game with this team, it's going to be fun and hopefully we can continue the celebration on Saturday night."

Lewicki said no matter what happens, he wants every player on his team to know if they played their best game, things will work out.

"The last thing I'll tell them [before they go out] is to play their best game. Whatever happens, know that personally you played your best game and if you leave it on the field and lose a classic, you can pat yourself on the back and know we played our tail off," Lewicki said. "I love this team and this group of guys. If we do what we have to do, we'll be OK."


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