TROY, N.Y. >> The Taconic baseball team didn't have stage fright in the spotlight at Joe Bruno Stadium Friday night. The Braves gave their supporters a scare, but remained perfect in 2016.
The Braves scored six runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and reliever Ross Omelenchuck retired the potential tying run on a ground out to end the game as Taconic (7-0) hung on to beat Columbia 7-4 in the third annual Coaches vs. Cancer Friday Night Lights series at the home of the New York-Penn League's Tri-City ValleyCats.
Former Pittsfield mayor Paul Brindle, a cancer survivor, threw out one of the ceremonial first pitches.
"It's [a huge win]. We came over wanting to play here and we didn't know how good they were," Taconic starter Izaiya Mestre said. "We came out trying to play our best and we did all right."
The Braves did a little better than that as Mestre pitched six innings of shutout baseball before giving up a run in the sixth and two in the seventh. The junior right-hander struck out six and walked two. Omelenchuck got the save.
"We came up in the sixth down one, and both teams were playing fantastic baseball. Both pitchers threw the ball extremely well, and then our bats — there's something about this team," Taconic coach Kevin Stannard said, "they just never die. It just doesn't matter if we're up one or down one."
Mestre had a quality start for the Braves. He threw five shutout innings for Taconic and allowed only one hit from the third until the seventh inning. He got to pitch from the same mound that American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel pitched from.
"When we first got here, I couldn't believe we were playing here," said the junior pitcher, "knowing that a Single A team plays here. It was really cool."
Mestre walked Columbia's Justin Luther to open the sixth inning and Luther took third when Mestre's pick off throw sailed down the right field line by the tarp. Mestre got Jarrett Fortin on a shallow fly to Jake McNeice in right. The next batter, Evan Davis, hit an opposite-field fly ball to left. Jack Cooney made the catch, but Luther tagged up and put the Blue Devils up 1-0.
"When I threw that ball away at first, I was like 'oh crap.' I had faith in our hitters," said Mestre, "and they obviously did the job."
Did they ever.
Ryan Abel led off the home sixth by grounding to third, but Jared Bowman threw the ball away and Abel ended up on second. The next batter was Brett Murphy, who singled to left off of Columbia starter Collin Catman. But as Abel rounded third, he collided with Bowman and was awarded home on the interference. Murphy took second on the throw home and went to third when McNeice's grounder went through Bowman's legs for an error. The next batter was Omelenchuck, and this is where Taconic took the lead.
On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, the right-handed hitter got his bat on the ball and blooped a two-run single to right, plating Murphy and McNeice, who had stolen second during the at-bat.
"I felt good going into it. I just wanted to get a hit and come up big for the team," said Omelenchuck. "It got a little scary when [the umpire] called a low strike. I just waited on [the pitch] and tried to put it where I could score the runs."
In all, the Braves sent 12 batters to the plate in the sixth, scoring seven runs on six hits. Cedric Rose's two-run single up the middle plated Cooney and Drew DeMartino with runs six and seven.
But the Blue Devils weren't ready to get on the bus and go home quite yet. Andrew Harris doubled to left to lead off the seventh and Mestre walked Brady Carroll. Stannard called for Omelenchuck, who struck out Isaiah Peace for the first out. The Blue Devils got walks to Justin Dessureau and Nate Cotton to force in a run. Luther followed with a bloop single to left, making it 7-4.
Omelenchuck recovered and got Jarrett Fortin looking, then retired Evan Davis on a grounder to Devon Walker at first to end the game.
"Defensively, we made a couple of physical mistakes and unfortunately it cost us a few runs," Columbia coach Chris Dedrick said. "They capitalized on the errors we made. They put together some really good at-bats. They did a really good job on some hitter's counts."
Murphy, Rose and Matt Stracuzzi all had two hits each for Taconic, who headed for home and a Saturday date with Pope Francis.
"It's big because we have to turn right around and play Pope Francis, the top team in Western Mass.," said Stannard. "This is a nice feeling. We get to have a nice bus ride home and the kids get to feel good about themselves.
"Hopefully, we can keep it rolling."
Collin Catman (5 2/3), Justin Dessureau (1/3) and James Connor Wright. Izaiya Mestre (6+), Ross Omelenchuck (1) and Brett Murphy. W—Mestre. L—Catman. S—Omelenchuck. 2B—C (Andrew Harris).
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.