ST. ALBANS >> After 15 wins in a row and a regular season title, beating teams in pitching duels and slugging matches with lopsided scores and dramatic comebacks, it took a relative newcomer to finally stop No. 1 BFA-St. Albans, one step away from the Division I championship game.
No. 5 Burr and Burton, in just its third year in D-I, will play for the title against No. 2 St. Johnsbury after its 4-2 win over the Bobwhites Wednesday.
"I am just so proud of the team, a five seed, to come up here against this great team here, to come up and beat CVU and beat [BFA]," Bulldog coach Ed Lewicki said.
BBA did it with a pair of shutdown pitchers, as sophomore Jay McCoy went 4 2/3 innings, allowing just two hits and a walk and one earned run before giving way to junior Griffin Stalcup, who had the tying runs at second and third in the bottom of the seventh before throwing a full-count heater high in the zone to end the game.
"Credit to their pitcher, he kept us off balance and did a nice job. I thought we did a nice job. We had a chance in the seventh, men in scoring position, that's all you can ask for there," BFA coach Geoff Murray said.
Senior Mark Connor struck out six and allowed six hits in a 107-pitch complete game performance, and the Vermont baseball Gatorade Player of the Year emptied the tank as he battled through a 3-run fifth, allowing an insurance run in the seventh as he struck out the final batter he'd face in his high school career.
But it was that fifth inning that ultimately was the difference. With the Bobwhites ahead 1-0, Sam Cottrell led off with a single, and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Then Daniel Hatheway singled, putting runners at first and second, and BFA would nab the lead runner at third before the Bulldogs loaded the bases. Stalcup delivered the biggest punch, roping a drive down the third base line to score two with a standup double.
"You're going to be in the game when he's pitching. And we were in the game," Murray said. "This group has a great attitude. They don't give up. We've come back before, we've been down before, so you've got to take a deep breath and move on."
After BFA scored one in the sixth, the Bulldogs would add an important insurance run in the seventh on a failed squeeze. James Reilly tried to put the bunt down with a runner at third, and BFA read the play perfectly. Reilly fouled it off, but instead laced a single with a full count to score Chandler Pouk.
"If he had gotten the bunt down they wouldn't have been able to score on the squeeze and we would've gotten the out. So him fouling off the bunt hurt the play," Murray said.
"I can't say enough about James Reilly's hit against him," Lewicki said. "We attempt the squeeze, they're all over it, he's 0-2 and he gets a hit against the best pitcher in the state arguably and the best player in the state to give us that extra run. It's just a good overall performance."
BFA went ahead in the third after Tyler Tatro reached on an error and then stole second, narrowly sliding in under the tag in a close play at second. That set the table for Levi Stanley's two-out stroke up the middle to make it 1-0.
The Bobwhites cut the score to 3-2 after Stanley led off the sixth with a single, stole a base, running to third on a ball in the dirt and then going home on a wild throw trying to catch him at the bag.
In the seventh, Stalcup walked a pair, including leadoff batter Ben Lovelette, and pinch runner Jason Bouwens reached third with two outs. The Bulldogs nearly turned a double play to end the game, but Kyle Cioffi beat the throw, and with BBA momentarily protesting the call, he ran to an unmarked second base to put runners at second and third. But Stalcup finished with his third strikeout of the afternoon on a day where it felt more like the season opener than the state semifinals.
"They had a big hit there and capitalized on a couple mistakes that we made. So give them credit. They've earned it to come up a couple hours to St. Albans and [Hinesburg] a couple days ago, that's not easy to do. So congratulations to them but we're proud of our guys. We've had an excellent season. We really should hold our heads high because we've played pretty well all season," Murray said.
"It's difficult to get through this thing. And these are tough teams we're playing. You're going to see good pitching in the playoffs and the team that capitalizes on mistakes usually comes out on top and I thought they did a good job of that," he added.
It will be the first Division I state championship game in a major team sport for the Bulldogs when they face the Hilltoppers at Centennial Field Saturday night.
"It's just going to be like these last two games. It's going to be a battle," Lewicki said.