Assistant Sports Editor
MANCHESTER -- If the Burr and Burton Academy baseball team is going to notch double-digit wins for the fourth straight spring, it's going to do so a little bit differently this time around.
Practices move at a more brisk pace and the signs have changed, as have some of the more nuanced plays. Yet interim coach Tony Cirelli still wants to keep the Bulldogs pointed in the same direction that's gotten them to two Division II title games in the last three seasons.
"The goal is to go as far as you can in the playoffs and that would be winning the Division II state championship but right now we're concentrating on our first game -- it's only our second day outdoors," Cirelli said Thursday afternoon.
Cirelli, recently the BBA junior varsity coach and, before that, head coach at Mount St. Joseph for seven seasons, picks up the reins for Adam Provost, who is on a year-long sabbatical from the school.
He takes over a team that graduated two of the top three bats in the lineup and two of the top three arms in the rotation. But a strong, deep group of veterans are poised to pick up the slack.
"We've got absolutely no superstars but we've got a lot of kids who are working hard, doing what I'm asking them to do, they hustle all the time," said Cirelli. "They're making the adjustments and I think they're progressing very well."
The Bulldogs also enter 2013 drive by last year's quarterfinal upset at the hands of 13th-seeded Missisquoi and its curveball specialist Matt St. Amour. The Thunderbirds, which edged BBA in the 2011 state final, are the only Division II team to beat them in the last two years.
"That was a tough loss," said senior Taylor Fuller.
"I feel with the team morale that we have, it makes us a lot better than last year's team," Fuller said.
Senior Jake Stalcup tops a rotation working in as many as seven new arms. Cirelli said Noah Rizio, Fuller, Dalton Blackwell, Skylar Clark, Alex Alberti and Zack Stewart, when not at shortstop, could all contribute on the mound.
"We have guys that are working hard, throwing strikes, and that's the name of the game," Cirelli said. "If they can locate the ball and get hitters t get their pitches we'll be OK."
Blackwell, a versatile junior, along with Dylan Beavin and Seth Wilkins, is a prospect to replace Riley Kevil at catcher.
Diving right in against two of the traditional D-I powers on its schedule, Burr and Burton opens the season at Brattleboro on Monday and hosts Mount Anthony on Wednesday.
From there, Cirelli hopes his veteran core will drive the Bulldogs to the postseason.
"We have a lot of strong returners," Cirelli said. "Ultimately it's going to be those guys playing a leadership role taking us to where we need to be.
"Right now, they're doing an absolutely fantastic job of doing that."