SPRINGFIELD — The long tournament drought is finally over for the McCann Tech baseball team.
But it wasn't easy.
McCann Tech survived a late rally by the High School of Commerce and held on for a 7-5 Western Massachusetts Division IV quarterfinal win Monday at Forest Park.
The Hornets (17-5) advanced to the sectional semifinals for the first time since 2009. McCann Tech will meet Smith Academy Thursday at 4 p.m. in the semifinals at Western New England University.
"My kids played with a lot of heart today,'' McCann Tech coach Pat Ryan said. "This is such a great group of kids and it feels phenomenal.''
McCann Tech appeared to be in good shape after it built a 4-0 lead in the fifth inning. But Commerce rallied for three runs in the bottom of the inning to make it a one-run game.
The Hornets, who split a pair of regular season games with the Red Raiders, knew that margin was too close for comfort. McCann Tech continued to battle.
A two-run double by Connor Guyette increased the Hornets' lead to 7-3. Commerce added a pair in the bottom of the seventh, but Robert Matte was able to pitch out of a jam and complete the biggest save of his career.
"It feels great to get our first win in the playoffs,'' Matte said. "I felt good coming in, but I was a little shaky in the last inning.''
But that could not put a damper on what he did in the fifth inning. Starter Austin Miller took a one-hitter into the fifth inning. But he got tired and began missing on his location.
Commerce (15-6) took advantage and touched him for two runs. He and coach Pat Ryan wanted him to finish the inning, but Miller looked spent.
"I ask my pitchers to be honest with me and he said he was tired,'' Ryan said. "It was hot and he had pitched a lot. He was up front with me. He's our No. 1 pitcher and he did the best he could.''
Enter Matte, a sophomore not used to such pressure-packed situations. Matte put out the fire by getting speedy leadoff hitter, Kevin Andino, to line out to shortstop to get out of the inning.
"He came in and shut the door,'' Ryan said.
Colin Racette led off the top of the seventh and was hit by a pitch. Charlie Bohl delivered a one-out single. Guyette belted a fastball deep to left field for a two-run double that gave the Hornets a 6-3 edge. Ethan Heller's RBI single increased the lead to 7-3.
"That was big,'' Matte said. "It was a real momentum booster.''
The Hornets were aggressive on the basepaths and were able to disrupt the Red Raiders.
"I coach the way I played,'' Ryan said. "I want my players to be aggressive, but play with composure and when you do that good things will fall your way.''
Bohl alertly went from first to third on a wild pitch after Commerce catcher Luis Santiago didn't hustle after the ball caromed off the backstop wall.
Mike Ferrara led off the game with a walk and scored on Miller's RBI single to provide McCann with a 1-0 lead. The Hornets added a run in the third inning after Miller singled, stole second and scored on Bohl's base hit.
"It's always good to get the lead early because it can build confidence,'' Ryan said.
Bohl finished the game with three hits.
Ferrara led off the fifth with a single, stole second and scored on an infield error. Bohl's single plated Miller, who reached on the error.
The Red Raiders refused to go down without a fight. Santiago, a 19-year-old senior who is four years older than Matte, hit a home run deep to left.
Then things got tense for the Hornets following back-to-back doubles by Roberto Colon and Kevin Bareto.
But Matte closed out the game.
"He threw strikes and did a great job,'' Ryan said.
Austin Miller (4 2/3), Robert Matte (2 1/3) and Charlie Bohl. Kevin Andino and Luis Santiago. W — Miller. L — Andino. S — Matte. HR — C 1 (Santiago).