BURRILLVILLE — Senior captain Zach LaFleur had just confessed to his “new” head coach, Peter Berthelette, that he needed his help with the bat after striking out twice in his final two at-bats Tuesday afternoon.
But when asked what Burrillville High’s stellar 4-3 victory over Mount St. Charles in both teams’ Division II-North season opener meant to him, LaFleur responded immediately and with feeling.
“This was better than any playoff game I’d ever experienced,” he said with emotion, alluding to a pre-game memorial ceremony for former Broncos’ chief Skee Carter, who died tragically of a missive heart attack on Jan. 2. “I won a ‘Fall Ball’ state championship with the Scituate Marauders two years ago, but this is 10 times better.
“I’ve known Skee as a coach and a friend since I was in the sixth grade,” he added. “To win this game in front of his family and friends, actually everybody in town, nothing compares -- nothing.”
An approximate 500 fans of Carter’s and Burrillville baseball turned out for the fete at Eccleston Field celebrating his completed life, and the impact he made not just on middle school and high school athletes but the entire region.
Among the contingent: Skee’s wife, Cheryl; son Chris and his wife, Susan, along with five-year-old son Aidan; and former players, current coaches and teachers and a myriad of friends.
“This was great; Dad definitely would’ve been proud,” Chris Carter noted during the contest. “The ceremony was so moving. When I went out to the mound with Aidan, that was the first time I stepped onto the field since 1989, when I was a senior, and Dad was an assistant coach under Scott Moore.
“Aidan threw out the first pitch, and he threw a nice strike with a leg kick,” he continued. “Like I said, Dad would’ve been proud.”
Stated Cheryl Carter: “The outpouring support everyone gave us, it’s an amazing. These people came from everywhere to be a part of this. Skee never did have an ego, but to discover he touched so many people, it’s unbelievable.”
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As for the contest itself, sophomore southpaw Colin Murphy lasted five innings in his squad’s debut, and yielded seven hits, two earned runs and a pair of walks while whiffing a trio in his first 2013 victory.
Junior righty reliever Andrew Carlson threw two near-flawless frames, allowing just a walk with a strikeout.
At the plate, classmate Kyle Wilkinson finished 2-for-3 with two triples and a run scored; and Carlson himself went 2-for-2 with an RBI.
“Overall, I think if Skee was watching, he would’ve been thrilled,” Berthelette said after the triumph. “I know he’s smiling right now. It was a great day and a great game all around; if you’re a baseball fan, I don’t know how you couldn’t have enjoyed what (Tuesday) brought.”
For the Mounties, junior Griffin Rogers closed at 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run, though classmate and relief hurler Harrison Kelly took the loss.
After surviving a scare in the top of the first, Burrillville went right to work on junior starter Riley Young. He walked sophomore leadoff Christian Fietz, who stole second, and allowed senior J.P. Nanni to reach on an infield hit, which sent Fietz to third.
Young’s pickoff throw to first skipped into foul territory, plating Fietz and pushing Nanni to third. Sophomore Chad Stone’s groundout to second scored Nanni for the 2-0 advantage.
Wilkinson followed with his first three-bagger of the afternoon, but LaFleur flied to short to end the threat.
MSC knifed the deficit in half in the second, when Kelly singled, moved to third on Young’s one-out double to left-center and hustled in after Tate Laquerra reached on an infield error.
Coach Tom Seaver’s bunch tied it up in the top of the fourth; Kelly led off with a bloop hit to left, raced to second on Young’s sacrifice bunt, took third on a passed ball and scored on James Perro’s sacrifice fly to right.
The Broncos regained the lead at 3-2 in the last half after Murphy drew his second of three walks, moved to second with Carlson’s infield single, reached third on Jake Hagerty’s fielder’s choice and raced in when Perro dropped Nanni’s lazy fly to right.
Again, the Mounties battled back to tie it at 3-3 in the fifth, and did so with two outs. Sophomore Mike Dixon took first on a fielder’s choice and – after Kelly walked him to second – Rogers’ roped single to left plated him.
In the end, Wilkinson scorched another triple down the right-field line to the fence in the back half of the fifth. Murphy then walked and robbed second before Carlson’s second infield hit scored Wilkinson, with two down, no less.
“Coach Peter Berthelette and all of Skee’s former players, coaches and his family did a great job of memorializing a fantastic coach and a good friend of mine,” offered MSC mentor Seaver. “It was a tremendous, moving ceremony. He touched a lot of people in his life and his career, and that more than carried through (Tuesday).
“As for the game, I thought our two pitchers did a good job for us,” he added. “Riley and Harrison only gave up four runs, but the defense is definitely a work in progress, but they’re slowly improving.
“I think we’ve got to work on our hitting; however, a lot of that has to do with the pitchers put out there,” he continued. “I thought the lefty (Murphy) did a good job keeping us off-balance, and the righty (Carlson), they put him in at the right time. We’ve got some work to do, but it’s only the first game.”
Offered Berthelette: “Murphy’s only a sophomore, and he’s been seeing a pitching coach, so we knew we could go deep into the game with him. The thing is, he’s got the composure of a senior, and with great location.
“Andrew’s a junior,” he added of Carlson, “but he absolutely loves being in key situations. Last year, we were at Scituate and chasing a playoff spot. I know the Cox (Communications TV) crew was there, but he came on in relief and reveled in it. We ended up winning by one.
“And Wilkie, when he swings the bat, he’s a very good hitter. He always was, but I think the difference this year is his confidence. He feels better at the plate, and it showed (Tuesday).