Womble, Taconic baseball team beat Belchertown to advance to Western Mass. D-III semifinals
PITTSFIELD — It was easy to be mesmerized by what Christian Womble was doing Monday afternoon at Taconic High School.
The junior ace was so good, he seemed to lull his even his teammates into a false sense of security.
Eventually, the Braves snapped awake at the right time and seniors Cedric Rose and Austin Rachiele provided enough cushion for Taconic to advance 6-1 over Belchertown and into the Western Massachusetts Division III semifinals.
"Looking over here a few times it looked like it was a day at the beach or something. I think we can get a little complacent," said Taconic coach Kevin Stannard. "We just didn't swing the bats well against their pitching. Obviously, Christian was dominant, but other than that it was like we were going through the motions, just another game.
"It's only having Cedric and Austin to rely on, you know, the regular season is over. It's time. This is one and done. You lose and we're collecting uniforms."
The Braves returned only two players with varsity experience this year in Rose and Rachiele.
"We were kind of slow, the bats weren't really there. We were maybe trying to do too much, but Womble just kept us in the game," said Rachiele. "When it mattered, we broke it open."
Womble, making his first varsity postseason appearance, fanned 13 in a complete game, two-hitter, pushing THS into the semifinals of the D-III tournament after winning a state D-I title a year ago
As the top seed, Stannard opted to go with his top gun for the Braves first playoff game, and Womble was a sight to behold for much of the day. He struck out the side in consecutive innings, before eventually losing a perfect game-bid on a bloop single to shallow right field with two down in the fifth. It was a demoralizing performance, as the right-hander blew fastball after fastball by Belchertown batters. That fifth inning single by Aidan Baceski, and a RBI double in the sixth from Victor Camerota were the only balls hit out of the infield by the Orioles.
"This was a hard atmosphere to pitch in," said Womble. "But you just have to stay cool and composed and just rely on your teammates behind you."
Still, as light's out as Womble was, No. 9 Belchertown was never out of the game. Through four innings, Taconic's only runs had come from a Rachiele fielder's choice, a Womble walk and a sacrifice fly by Anton Lazits.
"We had a game plan. Our kids understood the magnitude of this game," said Orioles coach Tony Pierno. "I think we had a chance to win 1-0, but we gave up three runs on errors, couple wild pitches. Walked the guys in the sixth."
The Braves' 2-0 lead looked shaky when Womble faltered with his first walk immediately after the perfect game was eliminated. Though he recovered with his 10th K, his catcher Rose knew Taconic needed an energy boost.
The senior No. 3 hitter, who had been walked in both his previous at bats, came to the plate with one down in the bottom of the fifth. Rose proceeded to put another divot in Taconic's left-field hill, doubling and releasing a mimed arrow to the sky to the delight of his teammates. The captain then stole third cleanly and scored himself on a wild pitch.
Womble retired the first two batters of the sixth, but both on hard shots to his infield. The Orioles bats were finally catching up to his low-80s heat. A walk to Chris Tilton gave Camerota a chance, which the No. 3 hitter smacked into a gap in left for a double. Tilton scored all the way from first.
Up 3-1, with the tying run at the plate in cleanup batter Ryan French, Womble had to clear the mechanism. After French blasted a couple foul balls deep into the first-base woods, Womble grabbed a new ball and blew it by him for the third out.
"Just got to have the mindset," said Womble, with Rachiele next to him pointing to his temples. "Just have to know how to attack, when to bring your best, and how to sit down one of their better hitters.
"Just straight four-seam fastball. I threw a lot of four-seams. They weren't catching up to it, so I had to keep using it."
Pierno had been pulling all the strings he could to keep his team in it against the No. 1 seed, and eventually Taconic's offense caught up.
"Our guys understood where we were at, and they gave everything they could," said Pierno. "We emptied the bench here. We were one hit here or there from tying it or taking a lead."
No. 7 hitter Mike Kays opened the bottom of the sixth with a single off the Orioles' fourth pitcher of the game. Brendan Stannard followed with a walk, before Pierno made another change on the mound. That move never found footing, though, as Mike O'Brien worked a walk to load the bases — and reach base for the third time out of the 9-hole.
Rachiele needed to see no more, taking his second offering and clearing the bags with a three-run triple to left-center.
"I was watching him thinking I'd have to wait on his fastball, but he had a little bit of a knuckleball too. He walked those guys, I watched a strike and he came back with a knuckleball," said Rachiele. "It looked like a watermelon."
Womble submitted a quick 1-2-3 seventh with two more Ks, pushing the Braves into the D-III semifinals. No. 12 Easthampton, giant killers of No. 5 Mount Greylock and No. 4 Hampshire, will await Taconic on Wednesday at Greenfield's Veteran's Memorial Field.
B'town 000 001 0 — 1 2 1
Taconic 002 013 x — 6 6 0
Ryan French (2 1/3), Matt Soja (1 1/3), Zach Jenks (1 1/3), Chris Bufeone (0+), Mankowski (1) and Aidan Baceski. Christian Womble and Cedric Rose. W — Womble. L — French. 2B — B (Victor Camerota); T (Rose, Womble), 3B — T (Austin Rachiele).
Mike Walsh can be reached at email@example.com, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.
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