WESTFIELD -- Curve balls, both literal and figurative, haven't seemed to bother the Taconic baseball team this month. Because of that, the Braves will play for a Western Massachusetts Division I championship.
One day after the Taconic seniors had their prom, coach Kevin Stannard had to make a last-minute lineup switch because of an injury to Steve Witkowski. All Alex Carusotto did was give the Braves a seven-hit complete game as the 10th-seeded Braves knocked off No. 6 Chicopee 9-4 on Wednesday at Westfield State University.
"I honestly wanted [the ball]," Carusotto said. "We've been kind of short on pitching and I knew I had step up. I feel great still. If I could go Saturday, I would."
Carusotto will be at second base for the Braves on Saturday at UMass-Amherst against fourth-seeded Cathedral. The Panthers scored a 4-3 upset win over top-seeded West Springfield on Wednesday.
This is the first trip to the Western Mass. final for Stannard, who is in his 22nd season. It is also the first Division I final for a Pittsfield baseball team since Pittsfield advanced in 2004.
"It means the world," said Carusotto. "Our coach hasn't done this in the 22 years he's been coaching. To do this for us and for him, it's been an incredible experience.
Taconic showed no sign of being tired less than 24 hours after their prom.
"It didn't turn out too well after last year's prom, some of the guys weren't themselves," right fielder Mitch Clary said. "We took that into consideration this year and really focused on this year's game.
"We went home and were in bed by one o'clock, and were all sleeping."
The Pacers were the players who appeared to have not gotten enough sleep the night before, as the Braves jumped on starting pitcher Brendan Berube for five runs on three hits, two errors and a hit batter. Taconic batted around in the inning.
"You can't spot a team like this" five runs, Chicopee coach Pat Garvey said. "If you're in the semifinals, there's a reason you're there. You're very good."
Carusotto singled to center to start the game and Berube's first pitch to Andrew Winston hit the Taconic left fielder. Mitch Clary singled to load the bases and Joey Dewey's ground out gave the Braves a 1-0 lead.
Kevin Squires' grounder was booted by third baseman Jeff Zebrowski to score Winston. Josh Berthiaume blasted a triple to right-center, scoring Squires and Berthiaume scored when second baseman Riley Campbell mishandled Dan Carroll's grounder. That made it 5-0.
"That's our game, when we try to score in the first inning," said Clary. "We did, and it sets the motivation for the game."
Witkowski's right arm acted up when he started warming up at Hagan Field. That forced Stannard to move Carusotto -- who had pitched in each of the Braves' first two wins -- onto the mound and John Keegan to second base.
"He was fine during BP at Taconic, got on the bus, got here, threw one ball and then he couldn't do anything. Obviously it hurt," said Stannard. "John Keegan did a great job filling in at second base."
Carusotto, who came into the game with a 10-inning scoreless streak, gave up a run in the first on two hits. Chicopee then got to him for three runs on four hits in the third inning to make the score at that point 7-4. From there, the senior right-hander got back on his game. He retired nine straight hitters at one point and he gave up only one hit over the final four innings. And when J.D. Lehouliller grounded to Joey Dewey for the final out, the Braves had their ticket punched to Saturday's final.
Taconic 520 001 1 -- 9 11 1
Chicopee 103 000 0 -- 4 7 3
Alex Carusotto and Kevin Squires. Brendan Berube (2 2/3), J.D. Lehouliller (4 1/3) and Joe Adona. W--Carusotto. L--Berube. 2B- T 1 (Joey Dewey.) C 1 (J.D. Lehouliller). 3B--T 1 (Josh Berthiaume).