Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Taconic baseball's run to state title a story of redemption
LOWELL — It's a common sight at MIAA state championships. A team wins a state title, and one player doesn't want to let go of it.
One could understand why Taconic's Christian Womble didn't want to let go of the award he and his team had just earned.
After all, it was a day of redemption for the senior pitcher.
Sure, Womble held Eastern Massachusetts champion Medway to two hits and the first earned run he had surrendered in the postseason as Taconic beat Medway 4-1 in the state Division III championship game. Sure, Womble struck out 12, giving him 119 for the season and 206 for two years of varsity pitching under coach Kevin Stannard.
"It means a lot to be a state champion," Womble said when we talked after the game. He had a death grip on that trophy, and one wonders how long it'll take to get into the school's trophy case.
The senior had tears in his eyes after the Braves won their second state championship in three years. As far as Womble is concerned, he's the reason Taconic didn't go three-for-three.
"I know last year, I cost my team that game, and to this day, I can't make up for that," Womble said. "I hope this one, bringing this one to the school district means just enough."
A grade issue forced Womble to the sidelines in last year's state Division III championship game against Austin Prep. Prep beat Taconic, and if you want to be really honest, Taconic probably doesn't win that game anyway.
Stannard had to be smiling watching Womble pitch on Saturday. The question was a simple one: When did he know Womble was going to be on Saturday. Stannard, who just finished his 27th season at Taconic, smiled at the question.
"March 19," the first day of practice, he said. "You bet. He was focused. He told me when I saw him during hoop season 'Coach, I can't wait. We're getting back there.'
"And he was right."
Not only did he strike out 12, but Womble made two of the best plays you'll see in a high school baseball game. He robbed Sam DiPillo of a base hit when he gloved a hot one-hopper up the middle, looking like a Stanley Cup goalie as much as a pitcher. Then in the fifth, Womble showed off his athleticism when he fielded a grounder along the third base line, throwing Matt Mueller out at first. He was so quick off the mound, the play wasn't that close.
Womble knew he was getting the ball on Saturday. Everything had fallen into place perfectly for Stannard when it came to his pitching. Womble pitched the quarterfinal and the championship game in Western Mass., while Anton Lazits pitched in both semifinals. Both of Taconic's pitchers went the distance in all of their appearances, so Womble was primed and ready for Saturday.
"Last night, I was up watching anime all night. I was up to like 2 in the morning," he said. "I think half of it was I couldn't sleep, I was ready for the game. The other half of me wanted to go to bed.
"I had to keep on watching my show."
A couple of breakfast sandwiches for breakfast and a nap on the school bus had Womble ready to go.
The righty struck out DiPillo, Nick Sheehan and Matt Peterson all swinging in the first. It was, however, the run he scored in the bottom of the first that he said gave him confidence.
"What else gave me confidence was scoring in the first inning," Womble said. "It kind of set the momentum for our team. We were up all game. The energy was never low. It was high all game, and I think that's what carried us to the victory."
What also made this game different for Womble and for Taconic was the fact that the pitcher and his teammates could not afford to make a mistake.
That's because Medway's Eli Joyce-Vorce, while not as dominating, was nearly as effective. Joyce-Vorce pitched out of jams in four innings, as the sidearmed right hander kept Taconic's hitters from getting anything going.
Pitcher-to-pitcher, there was nothing but respect coming out of the Taconic dugout.
"I have tons of respect for him," Womble said of the Medway pitcher. "He pitched phenomenally against us. Just to keep us to two runs means a lot, because we're a high-scoring team. We've been scoring five, seven runs in the tournament. To hold us to two for that many innings, I tip my hat to him."
Womble struck out at least one batter in every inning except the sixth. That turned out to be the only inning where the Mustangs put a run on the scoreboard.
In the seventh, with the Medway faithful getting excited about a possible comeback. Womble had other ideas as Justin Pratt looked at strike three and Matt Mueller went downs swinging. After Greg Assad reached on an error, Medway had the potential tying run in the on-deck circle. That's where DiPillo stayed as Troy Newman flied to Dylan Burke to end the game and give Taconic the state championship.
"What I try to do is rely on my teammates. As you saw in those last few innings, they started making contact and catching up. They started putting the ball in play," Womble said. "I had faith in my teammates. [The ball] went right to them every time.
"I'd just like to say thank you to them for making the plays when they did."
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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