Taconic gets bats going late to beat Mount Greylock, advance to Western Mass. D-III semifinals
PITTSFIELD — Despite being the head coach of a No. 1 seed, two-time defending champion playing an eight-seed, Taconic's Kevin Stannard had an uncomfortable feeling in his gut Monday.
Not all 1 vs. 8 matchups are created equal.
Top-seeded Taconic baseball had to tussle with Berkshire North rival Mount Greylock in the Western Massachusetts Division III quarterfinals Monday afternoon, and for the most part, Stannard's concerns proved warranted.
The Braves needed a five-run sixth inning to pull away and advance to the semifinals with a 7-0 victory.
For Stannard, a 27-year man at the THS helm, Steve Messina — with 28 years of service at Mount Greylock — wasn't who he wanted to see in his half of the bracket.
"When we saw the draw, we figured we were going to play Greylock, and I've been nervous. Last time was a 1-0 game [on May 24] on a somewhat controversial baserunning call," said Stannard. "Going against Steve, his teams are always so well-prepared, doesn't matter record or seed, we knew they'd bring it today, and they did."
With Taconic shifting from D-I to D-III, this was the first-ever postseason meeting between the two.
"We've always had great games against those guys," said Messina. "I've known Kevin for 45 years, we played Little League together, so I have a ton of respect for him and that program and we love playing them."
Through three innings, Taconic's Christian Womble and Greylock's Joe Jones skinned the same scoreless cat in two different ways. Womble finished his complete game shutout with 12 strikeouts, while Jones went 5 1/3 innings with just one punchout. Womble brought heater after heater, relying on a blistering two-seamer to dodge trouble in a few innings. He also fanned the side in the first and fourth. On the flip-side, Jones kept the Braves bats off-balanced with a steady supply of big, looping breaking balls. Jones recorded 16 outs in the game, 12 coming by way of flies and pop-ups.
"We knew Christian and our defense would be solid, but could we push enough runs across?" said Stannard. "Fortunately we did, but there we are, third, fourth inning and your stomach is in knots."
Taconic had one hit entering the bottom of the fourth, when Stannard's stomach finally eased up. The adjustment he and his staff had been pleading his batters to make finally clicked.
Brendan Stannard led off the frame with a ground-ball single through the left side of the infield. Then, after yet another pop-out, Bo Bramer put another drive into the same dirt. The ball got by Greylock's left fielder, and Stannard wheeled around to score the game's first run. Bramer landed on third after the error. On Dylan Burke's long drive to the outfield, Bramer tagged and scored, dislodging the baseball from Greylock catcher Derek Paris' mitt for a 2-0 lead.
"Against a really good team and a great pitcher like that, you have to be perfect and make great plays," said Messina. "We made some great plays, Oscar Low had a great diving catch in center, but then the ball gets through our left fielder. That you can't do, because to score even a run or two against [Taconic] is so tough to do."
Jones and the Mounties buckled it back up to end the fourth, and carded a 1-2-3 fifth as well.
However, Greylock's offense continued to sputter under the will of Womble.
"This was my last time here, and there's a lot of good memories on this field," said the Taconic ace, who had a disappointing end to last postseason. "Good moments with great teammates, I'm going to miss it. This school has done so much for me after failing off the team last year. Coming back and having that trust from my teachers and coaches, it feels good. I'm grateful."
The senior allowed just one baserunner to reach third on the day, and he only got to first safely after a dropped third strike and errant throw to start the fifth.
Evan Sheridan placed a sacrifice bunt to move Billy Galvin to second, and then Paul Roeder got the best piece Womble gave up all afternoon, roping a single to left field. Facing first-and-third with one out and a two-run lead, Womble got pinch-hitter Josh Polumbo to pop out and broke down Tyler Canata to end the threat with his 10th strikeout.
Womble worked out of a two-on, one-out jam in the sixth as well, wasting back-to-back singles by Dom Paris and Phil Guest with another harmless pop to Jake Risley at second, before catching the corner to fan Galvin.
"He was hungry right off the bat. He knew he screwed up. He was focused and told me Day 1, 'Coach it won't happen. I'm ready to go,'" said Stannard of Womble. "And he's been like that all year."
With Jones waning in the sixth, Taconic's bats started to figure him out. Stannard again led off with a single. Leo Arace then made Jones pay for his first mistake pitch of the game, turning on an offering and sending it by the right fielder for a RBI triple.
"Joe pitched his heart out. He was gutting it through, doing everything he could," said Messina. "They battled, played hard, but that's a really good, well-coached team. I'm proud of how they hung in there and battled all year after losing eight starters from last season."
Arace was caught at the plate on a suicide squeeze try, but Mike Britten landed a RBI single with one out, which ended Jones' day. Anton Lazits then tagged a Sheridan pitch in relief for a two-run double to the left-field fence.
It was a five-run rally that broke the game open and sapped any drama from Womble's finishing touches in the seventh.
Stannard finished the day 3 for 3 and scored twice. Bramer also scored a pair of runs. Galvin was the lone Mountie to reach base more than once, singling in the second. Jones ended his day with one strikeout, a walk and hit batter. He scattered seven hits and just two of the seven runs were earned.
Taconic moves on to face No. 5 Southwick in a semifinal matchup on Wednesday at Westfield State University. The Braves beat Southwick 10-1 on May 8. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Until then, Womble will rest his arm and resume leadership responsibilities.
"Next step is just focusing on practice. Any day could be our last, so we have to be ready to put it all in," he said. "Last year we started slow, but turned it up because of [seniors Cedric Rose and Austin Rachiele].
"This year we need everybody to step up and contribute, and that's what happened today."
Greylock 000 000 0 — 0 4 2
Taconic 000 205 x — 7 8 1
Joe Jones (5 1/3), Evan Sheridan (2/3) and Derek Paris. Christian Womble and Leo Arace. W — Womble. L — Jones. 2B — T (Anton Lazits). 3B — T (Arace).
Mike Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.
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