BURLINGTON — Motivation.
Blue Mountain Union has plenty following a 16-2 loss to top-seeded White River Valley in the Division IV championship on Friday night.
The second-seeded Bucks (13-4, 6-2 D4) let the game slip away as they committed four errors and succumbed to WRV’s relentless pressure.
But there was a silver lining. Blue Mountain return a boatload of talent next year — five starters, two key players lost to injury, and a crop of promising underclassmen — and their first taste of Centennial Field has left them hungry for more.
“These kids are so motivated to get better and they will learn from this,” said Blue Mountain head coach Scott Blood. “They will come back stronger next year and be ready for another great season.”
WRV (17-0) offered a glimpse of the possibilities.
Three years ago the team’s core (then competing as South Royalton) dropped the title game to Danville, 10-0.
Now a veteran group (five of nine starters were seniors, four were juniors), they played Friday’s game with maturity and poise.
The Wildcats executed in the field (zero errors), at the plate (10 hits) and on the base paths (five stolen bases).
The 2018 finals loss to Danville motivated White River Valley to pursue excellence, and helped turn them into champions, said WRV head coach Devin Cilley.
“We ran into a really good team in Danville three years ago, and we knew that we wanted to be on that level and we weren’t quite. That’s because we were eighth-graders and freshmen. But we grew up and kept working hard, and that [loss to Danville] motivated us more than we already were,” Cilley said.
Bucks sophomore standout Evan Dennis had a roller coaster night, experiencing the full gamut of championship game emotions.
With one on and one out in the top of the third inning, Dennis smashed a 360-foot bomb over the right-field fence to put Blue Mountain ahead 2-0. It was the first homer WRV allowed this season.
The right-hander also drew the start and went 4.2 innings allowing three hits and seven runs.
He tossed two scoreless frames, then struggled with his control, walking six and plunking three batters, and allowing two runs on wild pitches. Ricky Fennimore and Owen Murray came on in relief.
Offensively, Dennis led Blue Mountain with two hits. Teammates John Dennis and Fennimore had one hit apiece.
“These kids are young and they battled hard. I was very, very pleased with how hard our kids battled and never gave up,” said coach Blood.
Trailing 2-0, White River pulled even in the bottom of the third when Robby McShinsky drew a leadoff walk, Jacob Barry reached on an error, and Dominic Craven was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Carder Stratton drove in two runs on a fielder’s choice to make it 2-2.
“[Blue Mountain] had us on the ropes a little bit, but the boys didn’t give up. And they haven’t all year. And they scored two runs without getting a hit, that was big,” Cilley said.
The Wildcats went hitless until the fourth inning, when Austin Tracy rapped a leadoff triple down the left-field line. Immediately after, he scored the eventual game-winning run on a Weston Trombley fly out to deep left field. WRV tacked on two more runs (one on a double steal, the other on a wild pitch) to go up 5-3 after four.
They scored two more in the fifth and exploded for nine runs in the sixth.
Formed in 2018 by the merger of two school districts (Bethel and Royalton), White River Valley has won two state titles in its first two baseball seasons. They were Division III champions in 2019.
Stratton had a game-high three hits and threw a complete-game four-hitter for the championship win, with 11 Ks and three walks. He struck out the side in the final inning to clinch the crown.
Craven (double, three runs, two RBI), Jacob Barry (two hits, three runs), Curtis Barry (two RBI) and Weston Trombley (three RBI) also powered the WRV offense.
“They just continued to produce and it was hard to shut it down when we needed to,” said coach Blood. “[WRV] is a dynamic team, a team that is very dangerous offensively, and we learned that the hard way tonight.”
Blue Mountain will graduate two seniors, Collin Punderson and Ryan Gardner, and will lose two early-graduates, juniors Hollis Munson and Sam Demers.
Following the game coach Blood thanked those players for their contributions and leadership. He also challenged his younger players to learn from the experience.
“I know they didn’t like this outcome, nobody came here for this outcome,” coach Blood said. “What this will do is not only give us experience in this moment but allow us to overcome situations like this in the future, to make sure that the outcome is favorable.”
NOTES: Blue Mountain has an all-time finals record of 9-8 (8-6 D4, 1-2 D3). … The Bucks were making their first championship appearance since back to back D-IV titles in 2015 and 2016. … In their only regular-season meeting, WRV eked out a 10-9 home win on May 25.