MANCHESTER -- Burr and Burton Academy baseball coach Tony Cirelli walked into a near-perfect situation last season, riding the strength of eight seniors to the doorstep of a Division II title.
This year, things are a little bit different in Manchester.
Cirelli returns for his second year at the helm of the Bulldogs, but where experience played a major part in last year's success, this year the Bulldogs are hoping to get new kids up to speed quickly as they make the jump into Division I.
The good news for BBA baseball fans, Cirelli has done this kind of rebuild before when he coached the Mount St. Joseph program.
"They are very similar situations," Cirelli said. "It's trying to put your systems in on offense and defense. Trying to get your student athletes to buy into the philosophy of the program."
There is only one fulltime starter returning for the Bulldogs this year, but it is Noah Rizio, an All-Banner selection from a year ago. Rizio hit .373 at the plate last year and led the team with nine doubles. Rizio will be called on to lead the pitching staff, something that Rizio helped to do during the spring season last year as well as with the Rutland American Legion Post 31 team over the summer.
The only other returning player who saw significant time last yearr is Dillon Bibeau, who saw time in right field during the playoffs. He, too, will be called on to help out on the mound for the Bulldogs.
Beyond the pair, Cirelli will have three other seniors on the team. Colin McLeish will help in the middle of the infield for BBA, while Seth Wilkins and Jeremiah Parker round out the senior leadership.
Jon Iris and Taylor Muench are two more players that will get looks on the mound for the Bulldogs this season.
Cirelli said that he is bringing one freshman up to varsity this year in Griff Stalcup, who Cirelli said will help the team out and brings a solid bat to the team.
One JV call-up that could make a difference for BBA this year is junior Ryan Smith, who Cirelli said will get some time on the mound can be "very solid" for the Bulldogs this season.
While the lack of varsity time could hurt some of the new players coming up this year, Cirelli said that the JV call-ups are "a bunch of kids who are really doing well."
"We are looking at filling seven defensive spots, just tryin to see who is doing well inside. We are working on our technique, doing the little things: Throwing, fielding, doing anything we can to get ourselves prepared."
But, much like the rest of the baseball teams in Vermont, the lack of a real spring has kept the Bulldogs inside. Up until the beginning of this week, Cirelli only got his team outside once, and even then they had to practice in a parking lot.
"I hope to sometime get out so we can work on some situational stuff and get some game scenarios under our belt at practice," Cirelli said. "I think we will progress throughout the year. Things might be rough at first, but I feel confident I have enough talent, and kids are working hard, we will improve throughout the year and we will surprise some people in the playoffs this year."
BBA opens the season on Friday at home against Windsor before hitting the road for three-straight games. On May 1 the team will take on Mount Anthony at home and the away trip to MAU will be on May 16. The season wraps up on May 29 with a Senior Day game against Rutland.