Champions: Taconic baseball team wins Division I state title

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WORCESTER — When Wellesley's John Cioffi grounded to Taconic shortstop Drew DeMartino in the top of the seventh, Braves pitcher Izaiya Mestre had trouble thinking of what was about to happen.

He felt "Chills, honestly," said Mestre. "This is crazy."

Not so crazy as it turns out.

Taconic shut out the Eastern Massachusetts champion Raiders over the final six innings, and when Cioffi hit a grounder to DeMartino that forced Matt Maiona at second, Taconic's state championship celebration began in earnest.

The Braves scored twice in the fifth and two more in the sixth to break a tie as the Western Mass. champions earned a 5-1 victory over Wellesley in the Division I championship game Saturday afternoon at Hanover Insurance Park. The win capped off a 24-1 season and gave Taconic its first-ever state baseball title.

"To win states, being a five seed, everyone saying we don't have a good schedule and all this stuff," said Mestre. "They can't say anything now. We're state champs."

Mestre more than did his part en route to the "ship." He gave up a first-inning run, the first earned run he had surrendered all season. But then he shut the Raiders (16-10) down. He did not walk a batter and struck out seven, including two hitters in the top of the seventh.

Mestre wasn't the only Brave unable to wrap his arms around the fact that there will be a state championship banner hanging in the high school next year.

"Not even a little. This is the best feeling in the world," said left fielder Jack Cooney. "It's the best group of guys to do it with. I'm just glad we could end our career with a win."

Taconic joins Pittsfield (1966) and St. Joseph (1975) as Pittsfield teams to claim state championships. The last Berkshire County team to bring home the gold trophy was Drury in 1990.

It was Cooney's two-run single in the top of the sixth inning, scoring pinch runner Anthony Whiteley and Deonte Sandifer, that really put Wellesley behind the eight ball. Whiteley was running for Devon Walker, who hit a two-out double.

But it was a two-run fifth inning that put the Braves ahead for keeps.

Taconic had scored only one run off of Wellesley sophomore left hander Henry Weycker. He gave up back-to-back doubles to Cooney (3 for 4, 2 runs scored, 2 runs batted in) and Jake McNeice (2 for 3, 1 run scored, 2 RBI) in the first.

The Virginia Tech commit did have to pitch out of jams in the other three innings he threw. Taconic got runners to third in the second and third and a runner to second in the fourth.

You keep knocking at the door, eventually, you come in. That's what happened in the Taconic fifth.

Michael Kenney came on to pitch for Wellesley and Sandifer greeted him with an opposite-field single to left. After Cooney forced Sandifer, McNeice hit the first pitch he saw to the 385-foot mark in straightaway center for his second double to the same spot. Cioffi hauled it going back, but the ball was hit too hard for him to make a play. McNeice then scored on a DeMartino single to make it 3-1.

That turned out to be all that Mestre needed. The University of New Haven-bound right hander retired eight straight hitters after Weyckler's single in the first inning until he singled to lead off the fourth, and then retired seven more until Brendan Dolan's base hit in the sixth.

Mestre hit the first batter he faced in the game, gave up a walk and a single before Colin Blasco hit a one-out sacrifice fly. Mestre finished giving up five hits.

"I think I was more amped than nervous," Mestre said. "The first pitch slider kind of fooled me and hit the kid. I walked the second kid. I wasn't really nervous."

Taconic catcher Brett Murphy agreed with his pitcher's assessment.

"He's always like that. Even in basketball, he gets a little too hyped up," said Murphy. "As soon as that first inning went around, we said all right, it's time to drill in the screw and let's go.

"He was locked in. He was focused. I kept him composed. He stayed good and we knew it."

All season long, Taconic has parlayed a big defensive play into offensive momentum. Saturday's game was no different.

The Raiders had runners on the corners in the first inning with two outs and Isaac Weycker up when Wellesley coach Rob Kane called for a double steal.

Henry Weycker took off from first and as he tried to get caught in a rundown, Dolan broke for home. Dolan was caught in what turned out to be a 1-4-5-2, with Murphy placing the tag for the third out. A potential big inning went by the boards.

"We had planned for it," Taconic coach Kevin Stannard said. "We had done some scouting, so we knew they were going to run and do some trickery like that.

"That's how it's been all year for us, pitching and defense."

In the seventh, the first two Wellesley hitters singled. Then Ryan Carroll and Kai Grocki both struck out on three pitches. Finally, Cioffi hit the first pitch he saw toward short.

"The ball was coming to me. I felt confident. It took a bad hop, and ended up hitting me in the rib cage," DeMartino said. "It landed in front of me, and I had time to get [Maiona] at second."

DeMartino was then asked if he thought about being champions as the ball bounced to him.

"I had that confidence fielding that ground ball," he said. "This means the world for us to win this, for Coach Stannard and for the 12 seniors. It's been a hell of a ride."

With those 12 seniors off to various colleges, the Taconic baseball team will look different. Even on Saturday, Stannard realized it.

"Come next spring in March, I'm going to look in the gym and these guys are going to be off to college," said the Taconic coach. "I'm happy for them. I'm ecstatic. They've worked hard for everything they've got."

That includes a state championship.

———

Wellesley     100     000     0          1     5     2

Taconic     100     022     x          5     9     0

Henry Weycker (4), Michael Kenney (1/3), Max Zajec (1 1/3), Eddie Goss Jr. (1) and Ryan Carroll. Izaiya Mestre and Brett Murphy. W—Mestre. L—Kenney. 2B—T: Jack Cooney, Jake McNeice, Devon Walker.

Reach sportswriter Howard Herman at 413-496-6253 on Twitter @howardherman.


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