WORCESTER — It might not have been the way the Wahconah baseball team would have wanted 2016 to end. There are, however, far worse fates than losing in a state semifinal game.
"It's just unbelievable. We're one of the top four teams in the state in Division III," Wahconah catcher Matt Schneider said, after the Warriors fell a game short of playing for an MIAA state championship.
"I'm so proud of these guys, the way they fought all year long," he said. "At the end of the day, we're Western Mass. champs."
The Western Massachusetts Division III champion Warriors ran into unbeaten Groton-Dunstable Tuesday afternoon at Tivnan Field. The Central Mass. champs got a 12-strikeout performance from Joe Simeone as the Crusaders beat Wahconah 8-1.
Unlike their championship-winning performance on Saturday, when they never trailed against Frontier, Wahconah never led against the Crusaders. The Warriors (16-9) did have UConn-bound right hander Simeone on the ropes three times, but only managed one run.
Wahconah stranded runners at third in the third, fourth and sixth innings, but only managed the one run. That came on a Ty Cowdrey single in the third inning that brought Ben Schmitt home.
"We had opportunities, we had guys on base. I would bet you we put some pressure on this kid that he probably hasn't seen all that often," Wahconah coach Rob Cowdrey said. "From what I understand, he had four walks all year. We walked four times and had two hit-batters.
"I do think we put pressure on him. In the end, we struggled."
Simeone held the Warriors to one run on five hits in six innings of work. Matt Naughton struck out the side in the seventh.
"He was a great pitcher," Wahconah shortstop Will Genaway said of Simeone. "He spotted his fastball perfectly. His off-speed was ridiculous.
"He's one of the best pitchers in the state and that's one of the best teams in the state."
It took Wahconah 11 batters to even get the ball out of the infield. Ty Cowdrey's single was the first ball in the outfield as Simeone had struck out six and walked two before that.
While that was happening, it seemed like every time Groton-Dunstable had a threat, the Crusaders capitalized.
They took the lead in the second inning, parlaying a hit, a hit-batter and an error into two runs. Aidan Ward's RBI single made it 1-0 and he later scored on an error by third baseman Andrew Beaudoin. It was the first of four Wahconah errors, compared to the one the Warriors made in the Western Mass. championship game win over Frontier.
"When you give this type of a team five-out innings, it's going to come back to bite you," the Wahconah coach said. "That score is up there, but it probably wouldn't have been as bad if we had played tighter defense."
The early lead definitely helped the Crusaders, although Simeone didn't need that much help.
"They put the pressure on us for sure," Groton-Dunstable coach Matt LeBlanc said. "I'm kind of relaxed with these guys, because they proved they can make the plays in the field. We're strong on the mound but there are nine guys out there, and they're pretty confident in what they're doing."
Frazier was tagged with the loss, giving up five runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings. Only three of those runs were earned. Patrick Butler and Schmitt also pitched for Wahconah.
And while any chance Wahconah might have harbored for a miracle finish evaporated when Groton-Dunstable scored three runs in the seventh inning, the Warriors could return to Berkshire County knowing that there will be a Western Mass. baseball banner to hang sometime during the next school year.
"I just know the competition gets better as you head ... to the states. We just have to keep working," said Genaway, who returns for his senior year. "Our pitching staff is mainly back, so that's a real positive.
"I think we're just going to grow off of this, we're going to learn for next year and we're going to come back stronger."
Joe Simeone (6), Matt Naughton (1) and Jacob Barnes. Gage Frazier (4 1/3), Patrick Butler 2, Ben Schmitt (2/3) and Matt Schneider. W—Simeone. L—Frazier. 2B—W (Butler), G-D (Kyle Priest). 3B—G-D (Justin Watt).
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.