Burlington – From overlooked to over-matched, the Otter Valley baseball team made any skeptic still standing fall flat.
Under the bright lights of Centennial Field, the Otters rolled to a 9-0 victory over top-seeded Burr & Burton, claiming the program’s first championship since 1976.
To reach the Division II state finals, the Otters defeated No. 3 Lamoille in the semi-final match-up as Justin Owen shut down the Lancer offense through 6.2 innings en route to an 8-1 victory.
“There is a lot of hype out there in the electronic world,” said OV Coach Tim Mitchell. “There are a lot of teams that did not expect us to be here, and there is a lot of chit chat going back and forth, and you know what, we can’t control that. The boys know about it in the back of their minds; I think it makes us a better team.”
The Otters got another stellar performance from Brett Patterson, who held the Bulldogs to just one hit while striking out five and walking just one.
Patterson allowed only one runner to reach second and retired the last 17 batters of the game, once again mystifying a potent BBA lineup. In the first matchup between the two teams, Patterson held the Bulldog offense to just four hits in an 8-1 victory.
While Patterson pitched brilliantly, the Otter offense provided the punch needed to bring home the title.
After being held scoreless through the first two frames by BBA pitcher Noah Rizio, OV caught fire in the third. John Winslow started things off by reaching on a Bulldog error. After Winslow stole second, the first of seven steals for OV, Chad Lonergan laced a single down the right field line, plating the first run of the game. Lonergan proceeded to steal second, and came around to score when Ryan Kelly cranked a double to deep right field.
Patterson followed by laying down a successful drag bunt, putting runners at the corners with no one out. After Patterson took second, Jim Winslow fired the ball through the drawn in infield, just past the outstretched glove of BBA second baseman Robert England, bringing home Kelly.
Once again, the Otters stole second before Mike Winslow cleared the bases with a booming double to left. Winslow would finish the scoring by coming around to score on a pair of sacrifice flies.
With a six-run cushion, Patterson got into a groove, shutting down Bulldog batters with relative ease as he threw more than 15 pitches just once while inducing lazy fly balls and routine ground balls from BBA.
The Otter bats were kept quiet in the fourth before OV increased the lead in the fifth. Jim Winslow, who finished 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored, led off with a double and would come around to score on a passed ball, the first of two by BBA, giving the Otters a seven-run edge.
In the top of the sixth, the bottom of the order once again started an offensive.
With one out, John Winslow worked a four-pitch walk from Rizio before Lonergan blasted an RBI triple to right field.
Lonergan would come around to score on the second passed ball, finishing the scoring for the Otters.
As the Otter Valley crowd stood for the seventh, a crowd that covered almost all of the left field bleachers, Patterson took the mound for the most important outs of the season.
Patterson began the inning by inducing a ground ball to second baseman Will Claessens, who fielded the ball with ease and fired to first. With one gone, Patterson again kept it in the infield by forcing a ground ball to third baseman Jim Winslow, who fired across the diamond for out number two.
With the championship within reach, Patterson took the duty on his shoulders, striking out the final BBA batter looking, capping a 19-1 season for the Otters, and bringing the title to Otter Valley. In its only other Division II championship game appearance, the Otters defeated Winooski 2-0 in 1976. The Otters also have a Division I championship from 1963, when they defeated Rice 6-4.
“We’ve been playing together ever since seventh grade,” said Patterson. “We worked so hard to get to this point. It’s amazing. It’s a good feeling to go out with a win.”
Patterson was efficient the entire game, throwing only 76 pitches in the complete game effort.
“Brett sets the tempo, God forbid he ever had a bad day,” Mitchell said. “He sets the tempo. He’s quick. We talked about getting the job done and I think everybody follows in line with him.”
OV got support throughout the line-up as Ryan Kelly had an RBI double, Mike Winslow added an RBI double and John Winslow stole a pair of bases and scored two runs.
In a day filled with brilliant performances, one of the biggest days came from Lonergan, who picked apart the BBA pitching by going 3-for-3 with a triple, two RBI’s, two runs scored and a pair of steals.
“This is the probably one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had,” said Lonergan. “I never thought when I was little watching them play that I’d have the chance to come out here and play. It was pretty awesome.”
Although Lonergan hits in the nine spot, Mitchell makes sure to note that he is not a nine hitter.
“He’s our double leadoff. He’s the fastest guy in the league, hands down, and we expect fantastic things from him.”
For the seniors, the chance to go out on top reigns supreme.
“It feels great to end the last year, last game as a high school player, be able to win a state championship,” said Jim Winslow, one of six OV seniors.
Through the hype and doubts, Otter Valley persevered and out worked every opponent they faced, and now stand alone on top of the hill.
“I think it’s reversed whatever people wanted to say,” said Mitchell. “‘Otter Valley will never be here,’ ‘they don’t play metro,’ or all that. We got the job done.”