By Ben Kaufmann
County Courier

CASTLETON – Just as they’d done in a semifinal win over Missisquoi, second-seeded BFA-St. Albans rallied from an early 2-0 deficit and went on to pick up the win Sunday. This time it came via a 7-4 victory over rival Essex in the Division I softball championship.

BFA (14-2) barely broke a sweat after falling behind on a two-run homer by No. 4 Essex’s Jessica Rose in the top of the first. The Comets put one run on the board immediately, three more in the second, and another three in the bottom of the sixth for a little breathing room during the Hornets’ inevitable push. The win gives BFA its second consecutive title and caps a tremendous year which saw coach Bert Berthiaume win his state-record 500th career game.

“Once again, we fall behind 2-0 and this team doesn’t panic,” said Berthiaume, who owns all of BFA’s nine program titles and sits on 510 wins heading into 2022. “We fought our way back and I’m very proud of them.”

In typical Comet fashion, help came from all over. Maren McGinn was a rock in the circle, tossing four scoreless innings after surrendering the homer and only letting one Essex runner reach second in that stretch. By the time the Hornets scored a pair of unearned runs with two out in the seventh, the trophy was already pretty safely set to remain in St. Albans.

“Same thing happened against Missisquoi, she gave up two runs,” Berthaiume said of McGinn’s ability to maintain focus. “But she doesn’t falter, she shuts the door after that.”

McGinn finished the day with six strikeouts, two walks and two earned runs allowed in seven innings. At the plate, she had a team-high three RBI, driving in BFA’s first run of the day in response to the Hornet homer and two more to break a 2-2 deadlock in the second. She said there may have been a little anxiety pregame, but once the Comets took the field, a little deficit wasn’t going to shake this group.

“We were definitely nervous but just excited to play. This is a great atmosphere for us,” McGinn Said. “And when we got behind, it’s just kind of what we do – we come back, we believe, we always fight. So I don’t think it was anything new to us to come back and win this.”

Cora Thomas added a pair of RBI for BFA, ripping a two-run single to the left side to push BFA’s lead to 7-2 in the sixth inning. In an earlier at-bat, Thomas crushed a ball well beyond the left-field wall but foul. She then ended up with one of three infield singles for BFA in the second inning and scored its third and final run of that frame.

“We were just trying to get the runners in,” Thomas said of the approach in the second inning. “We were just trying to take it slow, we weren’t trying to rush because when we rush things it doesn’t go our way. So we were just trying to play the game the right way and focus on the at-bat.”

Essex coach Eric Rutz said the second didn’t play out the way he thought a big BFA inning might have. In that frame, Makenna Hughes singled past third base and MacKenzie Moore dropped a bunt single before the Hornets collected two outs. From there, Thomas and Caitlyn Dasaro had consecutive infield singles, Dasaro’s scoring Hughes. Moore and Thomas scored on a single up the middle by McGinn before Rutz pulled starter Emily Augustino in favor of Taylor Detch with the Comets up 4-2.

“They had probably the best hitting lineup that we saw this year,” Rutz said of the Comets. “It became a real challenge with our pitching and we were down early. Emily wasn’t hitting her spots necessarily the way she would want to and we also had some slow rollers on the infield which are sometimes the hardest plays to make. So they started gaining 60 feet here and there without having to earn it the way that they normally do.”

Detch turned out to be just what BFA didn’t need. The Hornet senior retired the first seven batters she faced and allowed just two hits in 4 ⅓ innings. The only success BFA saw against Detch came in the sixth when Hughes drew a leadoff walk and Brilee Bourgeois ran for her. Bourgeois took second on a wild pitch and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Moore before scoring on a passed ball. Freshman Ruby Dasaro had tried to squeeze Bourgeois in but ended up drawing a walk after Bourgeois scored – she and Taylor Baldwin, who had reached on an infield single, came in on a single by Thomas to give BFA a 7-2 lead.

“They played the game that we would like to play,” Rutz said. “Which is get on base, move the runners, chip away, get ahead and hold it. That was my challenge to my team for this game. Going into it being the visitor, to get up on BFA and then try to hold it and hold that team down, that’s extremely hard to do.”

McGinn picked up two immediate outs in the seventh on a pair of bunt attempts but Essex wouldn’t go down without more of a fight. Cailey Appenzeller singled to shallow left before Emma Sabourin reached on an error. Detch drove the pair in with a single to right center but tried to stretch the hit into a double and Baldwin fired from home plate to Thomas at second to catch Detch and end the season with a 7-4 victory.

The final play of the game wasn’t the only highlight for Baldwin behind the plate. The Comet catcher picked off Sabourin at first after she’d opened the game with a leadoff single. Without that play, Rose’s home run would have scored three and the day could have unfolded very differently. 

“She’s got a great arm,” Berthiaume said of Baldwin. “She says ‘I wish people would try to steal off me more, coach.’ I have to tell her that’s a compliment.”

BFA got plenty of other defensive help on the day. Thomas, BFA’s shortstop, made a brilliant catch running toward the left-field fence for the second out of the fifth inning. Following that play, Essex hit a ball to shallow center-field. On a similar ball with two outs in the seventh two years ago, Caitlyn Dasaro sprinted in and made a seemingly impossible catch and fired home to catch the runner and give BFA the 2019 championship. This time, Dasaro might have been able to make the catch but was well aware BFA had a 5-2 lead and two outs and wisely scooped the ball to limit the damage to a single. The next batter hit a deep fly Dasaro had no problem grabbing for one of her three catches on the day.

“It’s just graceful out there, like a gazelle,” Berthaiume said of Dasaro. “She takes all the difficult plays and makes them look easy.”

Dasaro’s sister, Ruby, would be a contender for most-improved player on the Comets. By Sunday she had shaken off any freshman problems and looked like a seasoned veteran. She made no errors at second base and had four putouts and two assists, the biggest play coming when Thomas flipped her a potential double-play ball and the younger Dasaro wisely settled for the out at second rather than risk an unnecessary throw to first. 

“She did a great job defensively,” Berthiaume said. “She was a nervous wreck but she hung in there and made all the plays. I was very proud of her.”

“She’s a super trustworthy infielder,” Thomas said of her middle infield partner and classmate. “We’ve been great friends for a long time and it’s just awesome to have her on our team, playing with her is just so much fun.”

Final stats for the Comets in the championship win: Thomas had two hits, two RBI and a run, McGinn had two hits and three RBI, Baldwin scored twice, Caitlyn Dasaro had a hit and an RBI and Makenna Hughes and MacKenzie Moore each had a hit and a run. Molly Smith had a hit and Bourgeois and Ruby Dasaro each scored a run.

BFA has plenty to be excited about going forward, especially the knowledge that Ruby Dasaro and Thomas just completed their freshmen years. But Berthiaume says his group of important youngsters – which includes sophomores Smith, Hughes and pitcher Sierra Yates – is only in a position to achieve great things because of the leadership of his current senior class.

“These five freshmen and sophomores we have, what a great five seniors to use as role models for the future. They can learn a lot from these guys,” Berthiaume said.

The five seniors he spoke of include McGinn, Caitlyn Dasaro, Baldwin, MacKenzie Moore and Casey Bechard. The class of 2021 leaves BFA with two championships in three seasons (and McGinn, Caitlyn and Ruby Dasaro, MacKenzie and Cadence Moore helped bring BFA its first basketball title since 1993 as well).

“Those five seniors were just awesome players, but more importantly they’re awesome kids,” Berthaiume said of the five who won this title a day after graduating. “They did everything they were supposed to and they hung in there, had that little pause over the junior year but they came back and had a great season. I’m very proud of them.”

Sunday’s win broke a pair of deadlocks between long-time foes BFA and Essex. Going into the contest, the programs each had eight championships and in championship games head-to-head the series was tied 2-2. The Comets now lead in each category.