Lenox baseball into championship game for first time since 1971
AMHERST >> The Lenox baseball team was sick of losing to Hopkins Academy, so they went out and did something about it.
The No. 3 Millionaires busted out for seven runs in the sixth inning to set up an 8-1 win over the No. 2 Golden Hawks at Earl Lorden Field on the UMass campus Thursday, sending Lenox to the Western Mass. Division IV title game — the first championship game appearance since 1971.
"It feels great. All we wanted to do was get to here, and beat this team," Lenox's Mike Hurley said, referencing a 2-1 loss in last year's quarterfinals and a 62-50 loss in basketball last winter. "This is who we wanted, and when we did it, it felt awesome."
The decisive sixth capped off a seismic momentum shift. In a 1-1 game in the fifth, Hopkins (12-8) loaded the bases with two singles and a walk, but Lenox (16-6) pitcher Conner Hanson responded by forcing Trevor Fil into a groundout back to him.
Five batters later, Hanson hit a two-run double to start Lenox's scoring run.
"Yeah, that was huge momentum," Lenox coach Kevin Downer said. "They score there, the momentum's there way. Unfortunately, the kid hit the ball hard, but right back at Conner, [who] made the play, threw it to first and that was it for that.
"Then we came up and got the big inning."
All eight runs were scored with one out. Hanson plated Jack Ellrodt and Mike Downer with the single in a bases-loaded situation. Hurley then came up with the runners on first and second and hit a triple to right field, plating John Fontaine and Hanson before a throwing error as the ball made its way back in allowed Hurley to touch home plate on his own at-bat and make it 6-1.
"Right before, when Conner hit that single up the middle I think, I knew at the plate I couldn't leave runners on," Hurley said. "I've been in a slump lately, and I knew I had to break out sometime."
Jake Corcoran got on base next after getting hit by Hopkins starter Patrick Michalak. He stole second with Luke Murphy up before Murphy drove Corcoran in on an RBI single. Murphy used a stolen base and an error to advance to third. That allowed him to be driven in by Patrick Colvin to finish up the scoring and make it 8-1.
Michalak gave way to Trevor Fil after Colvin's hit, and Fil used a strikeout and a pop-up to finally end the inning.
Those runs were more than enough for Hanson, who went 6 2/3 innings for the win. He struck out four, walked two and gave up four hits.
"Oh, it felt great," Hanson said of his hit in the sixth. "Finally we started hitting after that. I'm glad that we got some runs on the board, and that got me a little more confident on the mound."
Lenox struck first in the game, plating one in the top of the first. Noah Hunter reached first on a double with two outs, then Ellrodt followed with a double to plate Hunter.
Hanson kept Hopkins off balance through three, but in the fourth Fil reached by scorching a ball off Mike Downer's glove at third for a single and an error, then scored on an RBI groundout by Zach Yahman.
Lenox, meanwhile, couldn't get anything off of Michalak in the second through fifth innings. Michalak retired nine straight from the end of the second inning through the second out of the fifth, and after Murphy got to third in the fifth, Michalak retired Colvin to keep the game tied. Michalak finished with two strikeouts on nine hits with a walk and a hit batter.
That, though, was when things changed. After Lenox's explosion in the top of the sixth, Hanson trotted back out for the bottom of the inning and retired the side in order, and in the seventh Hanson was finally pulled after loading the bases with a walk of John Earle.
Tyler Coon, though, came in and retired Fil on a fly out to Fontaine to end it.
Ellrodt finished 2 for 3 at the plate with a walk in the win, and Hurley and Hunter went 2 for 4. Mike Curran went 2 for 3 for Hopkins.
Lenox now turns its sights on a first sectional title in over two lifespans for the players. The Millionaires will face a Berkshire County foe in No. 5 McCann Tech – which knocked off No. 8 Smith Academy 4-2 in the other semifinal – on Saturday back at UMass. First pitch is set for 4:30 and will cap a tripleheader of sectional finals.
"I heard McCann Tech is a pretty good hitting team," Kevin Downer said. "We're gonna have to play some defense, and I have to make a big decision on who to throw – [Colvin] or Mikey Hurley.
"But, we have to come to play. McCann, obviously they are in the tournament, and every team that's in the tournament you have to go out there and play them because they are good teams."
Hurley likes the idea of a quick turnaround for the game, and also likes the idea of playing a team he hasn't seen a lot of, but knows in some ways. Hurley played on the Lee football team that beat McCann 13-0 in the Western Mass. Division VI title game last fall.
"We are swinging well, and it's always fun playing McCann because we never play them," he said." I got to play them in football this year in the Western Mass. championship, so here we go again. Hopefully we can get the 'W.'"
Conner Hanson (6 2/3), Tyler Coon (1/3) and Noah Hunter. Patrick Michalak (5 1/3), Trevor Fil (1 2/3) and John Earle. 2B – L 2 (Noah Hunter, Jack Ellrodt). 3B – L 1 (Mike Hurley).
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