BURLINGTON - The combination of pitching, defense and great camaraderie usually results in a pretty good baseball team and that's the case once again this season at Lewis Mills.
Armed with a deep pitching staff, balanced offense and a strong core of senior leadership, the Spartans have jumped to the top of the Berkshire League standings as the spring season is already about a third complete.
Lewis Mills is 6-1 overall and 6-0 in the Berkshire League and the lone team in the BL without a league loss.
Success on the diamond is nothing new in Burlington as the Spartans have won three of the last six Berkshire League crowns. Coach Vic Rinaldi led Mills to a 19-1 record two years ago and the spartans posted a 14-win season a year ago.
The Spartans are currently on a five-game win streak and while it's always hard to compare teams, especially since there are still some holdovers from the 19-1 team, coach Rinaldi feels this one stacks up pretty well.
"Our strength is definitely our pitching," Rinaldi said. "We are pretty deep in the pitching department and that has been a strong point for us so far this season."
Such a strong point that Wednesday's 4-3 victory over Wamogo not only marked another time the Spartans have prevailed in a close game, but the most runs they have allowed in a game this season. Lewis Mills' lone loss came 2-1 at Fairfield-Warde in the second game of the season and the Spartans have already posted a pair of shutouts this season.
Joe Bruzas came on in relief and was the winning pitcher Wednesday against the Warriors and David Neuhausser, Kyle Eisenmann and Zane Milbourn give Rinaldi plenty of depth on his staff.
"We have a chance to be just as good as the 19-1 team," Rinaldi said. "I think our pitching this year is deeper than the year we went 19-1. Our hitting then was a little better than it is now, but we have great depth to our pitching."
Mills has won a couple games going away this season but its last two victories have both been of the one-run variety where they have scored the winning run in the seventh. Both were tight affairs, including a 3-2 win at Shepaug and it's pitching and defense that keeps you in close games.
"They've been a slug it out team in the past, they could just mash you, but this season they pitch well and are strong up the middle and that's going to make a big difference," Wamogo coach Gregg Hunt said. "They also have experienced guys who have been playing together for three or four years."
In seven games the Spartans have shown that they are a complete team, some offensive stars to go along with strong pitching and defense. They have also shown that they have what it takes when the game is on the line like they did in the bottom of the seventh against Wamogo.
Milbourn led off with a double to left and shortstop Jake Wazorko was intentionally walked. First baseman Brady Hecht followed with an RBI single to right and just like that- three batter, one run and the game was over.
"It's good to be tested to see where we are at, especially early in the season," Rinaldi said. "You are always happy with 6-1 to start the season. We are pitching well and are playing good defense, if we keep doing that we will keep winning the tight games. That's what we have been stressing so far this season."
While Rinaldi is stressing what it takes to win games during the season, the foundation for this year's squad seems like it was laid over the winter. With Hecht and Wazorko among others leading the way, the Spartans spent a lot of time together as a team getting their work in.
"We did a lot of winter work together as a team," Hecht said. "We got in a winter league over at FSA in Farmington and we got to get some live at-bats and I think that helped us get ahead as far as our hitting goes and the pitching was already there."
The combination of pitching and timely offense earned Rinaldi his 100th victory Wednesday and the Spartans have already won a BL title during this group of seniors' first three seasons. About the only thing left for them to accomplish is a deep run in the states and that is something that Wazorko, Hecht and the rest of the Spartans are targeting after being knocked out in their second playoff game in each of the past two seasons.
"We definitely want to win the league, we have the talent to do that, and then we want to make a run in the tournament," Wazorko said. "We've lost tough games the last couple seasons and we really want to make a deep run in our senior season."
But first is a run for the BL title and Housatonic and Northwestern look strong this season and Wamogo will likely have a say in things as well. But Lewis Mills has established itself as the favorite so far and the Spartans wouldn't have it any other way.
"We just have to keep working. The one thing about being at the top of the standings is that everyone is coming for you, everyone is gunning for you," Rinaldi said. "We just have to keep getting better and keep on working hard in practice."
"I think we have always been the hunted, and always have a target on our back I like that," Hecht said. "I think the whole team likes that and having a little chip on our shoulder and always having a little something to prove."
And if we've learned anything so far, it's that the Spartans can handle it.