MANCHESTER -- Starting the most important game of his career, Burr and Burton Academy junior pitcher Noah Rizio had a first inning to forget -- three runs allowed before being lifted.
What happened at the end will be a much better memory.
Rizio crushed a walk-off double with two outs in the seventh, scoring Zack Stewart for a 6-5 Division II semifinal victory over Missisquoi on Wednesday, propelling the Bulldogs to their third finals in four years.
"You just have to have a short memory, you can't dwell on things you did wrong," Rizio said. "I definitely didn't have it today [on the mound]."
Tied at 5-5, Missisquoi (12-7) hurler Matt St. Amour got the first two hitters of the bottom of the seventh on a flyout to center and a strikeout. Stewart then blooped a single to right to put the winning run on. After a couple of pickoff attempts, Stewart took off for second and Rizio drove the ball into the left-center field gap. The relay throw was way late as the Bulldogs rushed out to mob Rizio near second base.
"I think I just blacked out, I wasn't really thinking when I went up there," Rizio said after his first career walk-off hit. "Just see ball, hit ball and see where I can put it."
A matter-of-fact Rizio was quick to give credit to Stewart.
"Stew's hit was huge," he said. "Two out, no one on, it wouldn't have possible without his hit to the right side."
BBA (17-2) coach Tony Cirelli said he felt something big would happen in the bottom of the seventh.
"I told [pitching coach Doug] Crosier in the top of the sixth, if we can get through this part of the [batting] order, we'll win this game," Cirelli said. "We did a good job of putting the bat on the ball early, getting some key hits and our baserunning was excellent. I can't be more proud of a team then I am of ours right now."
Rizio started and was hit hard immediately. Caleb Lothian singled and Elijah Eaton drove him in with a double to left. Rizio walked in a run, then gave up a sac fly for a 3-0 lead.
But BBA came back with two in the bottom of the first off St. Amour. Robert England singled and after stealing second, scored on a Stewart single. Stewart stole second, then third and scored when the Thunderbirds catcher overthrew.
"Stewart and England did a great job on the bases, stealing, putting pressure on the catcher," Cirelli said. "It's great to have the speed at the top of the lineup and we were able to take advantage of the miscues."
The senior St. Amour allowed six runs on 10 hits, striking out nine in his final start for Missisquoi.
"I was surprised as many runs were scored, I thought it would be lower scoring," said Missisquoi coach Roy Sargent. "It was good to see our guys jump right on, get some early runs."
BBA re-took the lead in the third, with Stewart the catalyst yet again. He led off reaching on an error and stole second, one of four steals and came home on a Rizio hit. Three batters later, Weston Muench drove in the go-ahead run, then scored as Alex Alberti was caught in a run-down for the third out.
Missisquoi tied it as David Laroche led off the fifth with a homer, but Jake Stalcup, who came on in the second, limited the damage to keep the game even.
BBA will face No. 2 Otter Valley, semifinal winners over Lamoille, on Saturday at Centennial Field in Burlington at a time still to be determined.
"It's a great opportunity," Cirelli said. "These kids have played their hearts out all year long. I wouldn't put it past them to keep rolling."