Editor's Note: The R&L All-County Baseball Team and Player of the Year will be released in the Sunday, June 23 edition.
MOORESVILLE—A season worthy of receiving an A-plus grade featured a giant-sized “C” that was hard to miss in the scorebook report card belonging to the Mooresville High School baseball team.
“Confidence,” said Jeff Burchett, one shining season into his second decade as the Blue Devils head coach, when searching for a single word he would use to sum up his team’s success.
“I had all the faith in the world that the guys would buy into what we were asking and come through,’’ said Burchett, also a proud product of the program. “It wasn’t just one or two of them. It was any one of them at any given time. Obviously, they succeeded as a team.”
And primarily because of it, Burchett has been selected as the Statesville Record & Landmark’s Baseball Coach of the Year.
The numbers tell a memorable tale.
Mooresville secured a two-way share of the 4A class’ I-Meck Conference regular-season championship to emerge as Iredell County’s only league title owner.
Then, despite being denied the I-Meck’s postseason tournament crown after being defeated during the semifinal phase, the Devils hit a higher gear that guaranteed the distinction.
Mooresville rattled off its longest winning streak of the season when it mattered the most. The Devils posted wins in all eight of their postseason appearances to secure the first-ever N.C. High School Athletic Association West Region trophy in program history. They capped the charge with a straight-game sweep of the best-of-three series against fellow finalist Eat Region winner Corinth Holders in the NCHSAA state championship.
Mooresville completed its season with a 24-9 overall record, appearing in and winning the most games ever during a single season.
“ I don’t deserve this by myself,’’ said Burchett. “The players and the other coaches are all part of the team. I can’t say that I saw this coming. I don’t know that any of us really did. It’s even better than a dream come true. It happened almost a month ago, and to be honest, it still hasn’t completely sunk in. I’m not sure if it ever will.”
Burchett admits that his club took its time finding its true identity. Mooresville entered I-Meck play back in early March with a break-even record and wound up splitting three of its seven home-and-home season series with fellow circuit foes.
The Devils may have well reached their season’s lowest point late when dropping two of their three games played as part of a spring break trip to participate in a mid-April tournament held in Myrtle Beach.
“That was a tough time for us,’’ said Burchett. “We started doubting ourselves some. As coaches, we had to make some adjustments and keep showing the confidence in our players that we could turn things around.”
Mooresville managed that, netting the share of the I-Meck title and entering the state playoffs with a welcome boost of momentum.
“Once we got into the postseason,’’ said Burchett, “we really felt good about our chances. The match-ups we had seemed to be in our favor. It also helped that we started playing some of our best baseball of the season at just the right time.”
The Blue Devils garnered the No. 11 seed in the West Region that came complete with a home game to start the playoffs. It was the beginning of bigger and best-ever things to come.
Mooresville battered its way past visiting Scotland County in the first round and opened some eyes with a mild upset of homestanding Pinecrest High in round two.
Favorable results in the one-and-done phase of play allowed the Blue Devils to merit an unexpected return appearance at home to eliminate lower-seeded Hickory Ridge during third round play. That served to set the stage for a pivotal fourth-round appearance at Providence.
“We weren’t overwhelmed,” said Burchett. “By this time, we felt confident that we could play with anybody.”
Mooresville ousted overall No. 2 seeded Providence to merit a berth in the best-of-three West Region finals against Ronald Reagan. Back-to-back wins, the second taking place on their home field, set the Devils on sail toward their first-ever state finals berth.
At the finals, where weather delayed the start of the process for a day, Mooresville twice battled back from two-run deficits – following a pattern they adhered practically throughout the postseason – to down Corinth Holders in the bare minimum number of games.
“To be a part of this,’’ said Burchett, “with these players at a time when Mooresville really needed something positive to take place, it just can’t get any better. It’s just such an honor to be a part of it.”
Making matters even more special is the fact that Burchett was able to enjoy the ride with his son, Blake Burchett, in tow. The latter, a senior shortstop and leadoff batter who is headed to Louisburg College, is the only son and youngest child of the head coach.
“I try to treat all my players like family,” said Burchett. “To actually have Blake by my side, it just brings tears to my eyes. He had a lot of pressure on him during his high school career. I’m so proud of him and of this team for what it has accomplished."