Repeating as champion is tough to do in sports. It’s why you don’t see it happen all that often.
That challenge becomes even harder when teams have had a year away from that high-level, pressure-cooking environment.
The CVU, Fair Haven and White River Valley baseball teams all set out this week to protect their crowns, with varying levels to difficulty to do so.
The Redhawks are in the driver’s seat to keep their seat atop the throne. With a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed, the Division I tournament will run through Hinesburg up until a potential state championship game at Centennial Field.
Fair Haven will have a tougher road to repeat as Division II champions. Gone are many of the stalwarts from that 2019 championship and in their place is a group with lots of youth, but a few veterans that know the rigors of a championship run.
The Slaters are the No. 11 seed in D-II and a Cinderella title run, barring upsets we know will inevitably happen, would have them have to beat teams like Enosburg, Harwood, Spaulding and Hartford. A tall task by every measure.
White River Valley can’t defend the crown in 2019, which came in Division III, but the Wildcats would love to maintain their distinction as champion, this time in D-IV.
White River Valley is far and away the favorite in the division, but I know there are a bunch of teams wanting to knock them off.
Let’s go division by division and see what to expect when playoffs begin on Tuesday..
Division IThe favorites: No. 1 CVU and No. 2 Essex. CVU is the defending champion and it looks every bit as strong as two years ago. Essex’s only bugaboo, minus a loss to CVU, was BFA-St. Albans. The Hornets boast one of the better pitching staffs in the division, holding opponents to three runs or less in 10 of their games.
Dark horse: No. 6 Colchester. The Lakers were 9-5 and they played elite clubs like CVU, Rice and Essex close. If a few more hits fall in or a few more calls go their way, Colchester could make a run in the tournament.
Best first-found matchup: No. 9 BBA at No. 8 South Burlington. The only first round matchup that has two over .500 clubs in it. Both the Bulldogs and Wolves have knocked off opponents that are higher-seeded in the tournament. Both historically strong programs, this is a treat to get in the first round.
Longest trip: No. 12 St. Johnsbury at No. 5 Mount Anthony (2 hours, 35 minutes)
Fun fact: CVU pitcher Ryan Canty is the son of Joe Canty, who played for the Rutland Post 31 American Legion team.
Division IIThe favorites: No 1. Hartford, No. 2 Spaulding and No. 5 U-32. Each can win games in many different ways. It’s often a pitching staff led by Alex Bushway that does the honors for the Canes, a powerful offense that leads the Tide and a little bit of both for the Raiders, highlighted by one of the best players in the state, Owen Kellington.
Dark horse: No. 8 Otter Valley. Their road to a third title game in four years will be hard, but they nearly knocked off Hartford on Saturday and have an ace in Fraser Pierpont that can match most opponents’ top guy.
Best first-found matchup: No. 11 Fair Haven at No. 6 Enosburg. The Slaters are the defending champions and have hung with elite teams like Hartford and Brattleboro for stretches. They’d have to put a full seven innings together to best Enosburg, who is in that second-tier of D-II title contenders.
Longest trip: No. 9 North Country at No. 8 Otter Valley (2 hours, 38 minutes)
Fun fact: Hartford, the lone unbeaten team in D-II, has never won a championship in the division. Both Hurricanes baseball titles came in D-I.
Division IIIThe favorites: No. 1 Thetford and No. 2 Peoples. The Panthers and Wolves both own a win against U-32, one of the top teams in Division II.
Dark horses: No. 4 Bellows Falls and No. 7 Green Mountain. These are a pair of southern teams that play tough schedules. That will serve them well this time of year.
Best first-found matchup: No. 9 Leland & Gray at No. 8 Windsor. A pair of teams that are better than their records let on. The Rebels beat Proctor twice and lost by a run to GM. Windsor owns a shutout win over Otter Valley. The Yellow Jackets won their lone matchup in the regular season.
Longest trip: No. 15. Mill River at No. 2 Peoples Academy (1 hour, 58 minutes)
Fun fact: Former Thetford baseball coach Dave McGinn was in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd in 1978 for allowing just one earned run in 26 playoff innings for Brattleboro.
Division IVThe favorite: No. 1 White River Valley. The Wildcats are far and away the favorite here. They’re undefeated with a schedule filled with teams in higher divisions.
Dark horse: No. 5 MSJ. The Mounties got hot at the right time. Cole Blanchard is their ace and could give them as good a chance as any in this tournament. If they can beat Proctor on Friday, most likely White River Valley is the mountain in their way in the semis. No easy task, but that’s why they play the game.
Best first-found matchup: No. 5 MSJ at No. 4 Proctor. Cheating a little on this one. There’s only one first round matchup, so we go with a quarterfinal. The familiarity is present in this Rutland County quarterfinal matchup. Both games between them were decided by two runs or less.
Fun fact: It has been more than two decades since Proctor has been in a baseball state title game. The year was 2000 and Phantoms became Division IV champions with a 6-5 win against Twinfield.