LOWELL — Dylan Burke took a deep breath.
"As soon as it was hit, I was like 'Oh my God.' I didn't want it to drop," said Burke. "One-hundred percent, that was the scariest catch of my life."
Medway's Troy Newman hit the first pitch he saw in the seventh inning. The fly ball to left carried a bit and Burke ran over to make the grab that locked up an MIAA state Division III baseball championship for Taconic.
The Braves got a performance for the ages from senior pitcher Christian Womble, who threw a two-hitter and struck out 12 as the Western Massachusetts champions beat Medway 4-1 on Saturday afternoon at LeLacheur Park.
Taconic led 2-1 going into the bottom of the sixth, before scoring two insurance runs. In the seventh, Womble struck out the first two hitters he saw before Medway's Greg Assad reached on an error by Jake Risley. But when Newman hit that fly ball to Burke, the celebration began.
"It was a hard-hit ball, so [he thought] Burke, keep it in front. It stayed up and Burke caught it," Taconic third baseman Brendan Stannard said, when asked what he thought when the ball left Newman's bat. "That was easily the best moment of all our lives. I can speak for everyone when I say that. It was amazing."
[cqembed title="Untitled" content="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"]
Medway left only five runners on base because Womble was so on point Saturday, the right hander had four, 1-2-3 innings, and at one point, retired 13 consecutive batters.
Womble was definitely the star of the proceedings. He held Medway to two hits and walked three, while those 12 strikeouts got him to 119 on the season. In his two-year career on the bump, Womble had 206 punchouts.
"Today, my curveball and slider" were working, Womble said. "The slider was catching a lot of them off-balance. They were thinking it was a fastball, and it would drop off at the last minute. It kept them off-balance the whole game."
Taconic won the MIAA state Division I title two years ago, beating Wellesley. Last year, the Braves had moved down to Division III and got to the state final where they lost to Austin Prep.
"These kids, they've been resilient," Taconic coach Kevin Stannard said. "Put a little pressure on them and they respond well."
It wasn't easy, but it was a wire-to-wire win for Taconic on Saturday afternoon. The Braves got a run in the first inning and never trailed. With one out, Womble tripled to center and scored on a two-out single by Leo Arace.
Taconic managed 10 hits against Medway's ace, side-arming right hander Eli Joyce-Vorce, but he kept pitching out of jams. Through five innings, the Braves had eight hits, but only two runs. Twice, Taconic ran itself out of potential big innings. That led the Braves to play a little "small ball" in the fifth inning.
Jake Harrington, Taconic's No. 9 hitter, led off with a single. Luke Whitehouse came on to pinch run. Whitehouse went to second on a bloop single by Anton Lazits. Lazits was forced at second on a grounder by Womble, but was safe at first on an error. On the first pitch from Joyce-Vorce, Brendan Stannard put down a perfect squeeze bunt. Whitehouse scored easily and Stannard was on first with a single.
"We did," said Kevin Stannard, referring to another trip with small ball. "Brendan's a great bunter. He does everything well. I trust him. Luke did the right thing, got a good jump and it worked."
Lazits, Arace and Harrington all had two hits each for Taconic.
In the regular season, it was a combination of pitching and hitting that propelled the Braves into the No. 1 spot in the Western Mass. tournament. Taconic's defense came up big several times on Saturday.
In the third inning, Womble flashed some leather on a smash up the middle by Sam DiPillo. Womble also threw out Matt Mueller after a fifth-inning swinging bunt.
Freshman center fielder Bo Bramer made a spectacular diving grab on a sinking liner by Newman to open up the sixth. Had Bramer not caught the ball, it might have started a big inning.
"You can tell how athletic Christian is, with that ball right up the middle and the swinging bunt down the third base line — and then Bo," said coach Stannard. "Defensively, we've been solid all year and it didn't change."
That catch by Bramer helped because Womble walked two batters with two outs and gave up an RBI single to Peterson. But the Mustangs only got the one run.
Taconic finally got to Joyce-Vorce with a two-out, two-run rally in the home sixth. Michael Britten reached on an error by Assad on a bad throw. Britten came around to score on Harrington's RBI double. Harrington might have been Taconic's hottest hitter in the postseason, as he finished up going 7 for 14, and if there was an unsung hero award, it could have gone to the Taconic first baseman.
"The first pitch [of the at-bat] wasn't a good one. I kind of embarrassed myself with the swing," he said. "I stepped toward the plate because the ball was tailing toward the outside corner. He threw me a fastball right down the middle, and I just hit it."
Lazits followed with a triple of his own, as the ball scooted toward the wall in left-center, Harrington came around easily to make it 4-1.
With the win, Taconic and Valentine Road in Pittsfield have established themselves as the epicenter of baseball in Western Massachusetts. And like a parent with multiple children, don't ask Stannard to pick one over the other.
"It hasn't sunk in yet. I'll tell you, our record these last four years is unbelievable," Stannard said. "We've played 75 games, two state titles, three Western Mass titles. It just says the program is solid, the coaching staff is outstanding, how we work with them.
"We were in the gym practicing [most of the year], and our last practice was in the gym, just how we started the year. We didn't change, and I couldn't be prouder of the kids and the coaching staff."
Medway 000 001 0 — 1 2 2
Taconic 100 012 x — 4 10 2
Eli Joyce-Vorce and Trent Flood. Christian Womble and Leo Arace. W — Womble. L — Joyce-Vorce. 2B — T (Jake Harrington). 3B — T (Womble, Anton Lazits).
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.