One baseball team enters Western Mass. championship Saturday as the top seed in its draw. One is the lowest seed remaining.
Both have a chance to bring a title back to the Berkshires.
Taconic and Monument Mountain, North Division foes in the regular season, will play in sectional championship games at the University of Massachusetts this afternoon. The 16-7 Braves meet No. 4 seed Cathedral (15-7) at 1:30 p.m. for the Division I crown, while the Spartans (17-3) play No. 6 seed Greenfield (17-6) at 4:30 p.m. in the D-III final.
With a win, the Braves would claim their first Western Mass. crown since 1977. Monument Mountain looks to claim its first sectional baseball title in school history.
It's been a roller-coaster season, as Taconic coach Kevin Stannard put it.
"There'd be spurts where we'd play great, and other spurts where it wasn't the team we thought we had," he said.
The former has shown up in the postseason, and stunned the rest of the region in the process.
First, the 10-seed Braves beat Pittsfield at Wahconah Park. Then, Taconic shocked all of Western Mass. with a 10-5, eight-inning win over No. 2 seed Westfield in the quarterfinals, becoming the first city baseball team to reach a semifinal in almost a decade.
Taconic clinched its berth in the final Wednesday, getting a complete-game effort from pitcher Alex Carusotto in a 9-4 win over No. 6 seed Chicopee.
Carusotto has told Stannard he's available in relief Saturday.
"It's probably [Joey] Dewey to start, and then all hands on deck," Stannard said. "Jake McNeice, Steve Witkowski, who had to sit out the semifinal game [shoulder strain just before game], and Alex said he was good for at least an inning or two."
If Carusotto pitches, he'll have taken the mound in each of the Braves' postseason games.
"He's just that type of person," Stannard said. "He's a gamer. I don't think anything would stop him."
Taconic didn't waste time in its semifinal win, scoring seven runs on Chicopee in the first two innings of the game. They scored five in the first three innings against Westfield.
It's not just the top of the order getting the job done, either. Taconic senior Mitch Clary, who's headed for Fitchburg State next season, gives credit to the bottom of the order as well.
"Right now, our 6-7-8-9 hitters are all doing great," he said. "They're all getting on base, and that's what it's all about. Dan Carroll has come a long way ... to being a starter. He's hitting the heck out of the ball right now."
While the pitching and offense have come through, Stannard said his team's defense in the tournament has been just as much of an asset. One of the keys to the infield's success, freshman shortstop Izaiya Mestre, is making the most of a second chance after being dropped to the junior-varsity level at one point in the season.
"Ever since we put him back in the starting lineup, he's been really solid," the coach said.
The Braves have seen their opponent before. Cathedral got three runs on seven hits against Carusotto in a 3-2 win May 3 in Pittsfield. Taconic, though, left nine runners on base and couldn't capitalize on a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the seventh.
Clary said accuracy is key, as Cathedral is a team that likes to take pitches and reach base.
"We know they're a great defensive team, and the pitching is solid," he said. "We plan to [come out] the first inning and score a couple of runs. We have to play solid defense behind whoever we pitch."
James Allentuck got the Spartans to the championship game with a 107-pitch, 12-strikeout complete game in a 4-2 win over Athol on Thursday night. Saturday, Peter Oggiani takes the hill for Monument against Greenfield.
"He's been our No. 1 all year," Spartans coach Tom Hankey said. "He puts the ball around the plate, and he goes after everybody."
He could be opposed by Garrett Hudson, who shut down Drury in a 7-2 semifinal win over the Blue Devils on Wednesday at MCLA.
"If [Peter] doesn't overthrow and hits his spots, I like our chances," Hankey said. "But it's a tough game to predict."
Monument Mountain has been without co-captain and shortstop Bobby Kinne since he suffered another concussion -- his second of 2014 -- in a quarterfinal win over Wahconah. Hankey shifted the infield in Kinne's absence, moving Nate Cormier from third to short. That's likely where Cormier will start in 2015.
Hankey hopes for production from the top part of his batting order -- Trevor McFarland, Brandon Perry and Oggiani -- to get runs early and ease the burden on the pitcher and defense.
"They've set the table for the rest of it," the coach said. "Trevor and Brandon, they've been doing a great job."
The heart of the order, though, did the damage in the semifinal win. T.J. Shumsky drove in two runs in the cleanup spot, and Dominic DeFelice had two RBI batting fifth.
Hankey hopes the Spartans can add to the postseason success the school has already had this spring. The boys track and field team won the Central-Western Mass. Division II championship last weekend, and the boys and girls tennis teams each won Western Mass. Division III titles Friday afternoon.
"There are a lot of good things happening out there, with a lot of great athletes," the coach said. "The kids are just responding to the situation. I'm hoping we can stay focused and hold up our end of the bargain."
To reach Matthew Sprague:
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On Twitter: @BE_MSprague.