Positive mindset, unsung heroes help Taconic baseball bring home state championship

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WORCESTER — When next season rolls around, Taconic baseball coach Kevin Stannard will have to think about his batting order and lineup. Having 12 seniors on a roster and seven in your everyday starting lineup will do that.

"I sit down at night or in the morning and it's the same thing," Stannard said, when asked about this year's team. "We'll just do a carbon copy of it for 20 games.

For most of the Taconic team that claimed the school's first-ever MIAA state Division I championship on Saturday afternoon, it is off to college next year. For a select few — three to be exact — they get to move into the leadership positions the Taconic dozen had occupied for much of the past two seasons.

Taconic beat Wellesley 5-1 on Saturday at The College of Holy Cross' Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field. Senior Izaiya Mestre threw a five-hitter in going the distance. Seniors Jack Cooney and Jake McNeice, sitting 1-2 in the batting order, were a combined 5 for 7 with three runs scored and four runs batted in.

For junior Cedric Rose, celebrating with the seniors was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

"It was crazy. It was surreal," Rose said after the celebrating had died down. "There are so many emotions."

Rose then gave a shout out to the seniors. "I'm going to miss these boys. I'll miss them so much."

Rose, Drew DeMartino and Austin Rachiele are the juniors who will be back in 2018 to make up the core of the Taconic team. Rose, who batted cleanup and came into the state championship game batting .357 in the tournament, said that the lessons learned at Holy Cross and across the three months of baseball season will go a long way next year.

"We just bring this over into next year," said Rose. "We just try to bring what we learned and the experience from all this, and show it to the younger guys. Just try to get back here next year, work as hard as we can."

Mestre, Cooney and McNeice might have stolen the Saturday headlines with their pitching and offensive performances, respectively. But Taconic doesn't win a state championship without a positive mindset, and without a number of unsung heroes.

First, the mindset.

Taconic gave up a quick run in the first inning, but got it back in the home first. Wellesley starter Henry Weycker, a sophomore left hander who has verbally committed to play baseball at Virginia Tech, had thrown a complete game in Tuesday's 1-0 state semifinal win over Lowell. It was reported in Boston newspapers that Weycker was going to be limited by a pitch count. But that didn't matter to Taconic, who got back-to-back doubles from Cooney and McNeice — both to the deepest part of Hanover Insurance Park.

"My teammates really came out today with a lot of energy," McNeice said. "The Virginia Tech commit was a very good pitcher, we thought. I think that was why we came out with so much energy because we know he's really good.

"[The doubles] gave us a ton of confidence, because that kid's slider was probably the best slider we've seen all year. We knew we could hit him."

As to the unsung heroes, start with the football tag team of Devon Walker and Anthony Whiteley. Walker, who hadn't hit a ton in the tournament but played Gold Glove first base in every postseason win, hit a double to center with two outs in the bottom of the sixth and the Braves leading only 3-1. Whiteley, a Taconic football teammate of Walker, came on to run. Whietely took third on a wild pitch and after Deonte Sandifer was hit by a pitch and stole second, then came home on Cooney's two-run double.

In the state semifinal, Rose was an unsung hero when he hit a two-run, opposite field home run that cleared the fence in right center field at Tivnan Field in Worcester. That helped give Taconic some needed energy and helped them go on to beat Wachusett 12-11.

Even Rachiele, the third junior, had a big hand in Taconic's championship. His successful suicide squeeze bunt in the Western Mass. semifinal win over Westfield helped the Braves score four runs in the top of the seventh. That allowed Stannard to keep Mestre off the mound, and keep the senior fresh for last week's championship win over Minnechaug at UMass.

The state baseball championship caps off quite a year for Taconic. The Braves were Western Mass. Division III football champions as well. Taconic, the top seed, knocked off fourth-seeded Easthampton and No. 3 Longmeadow.

Then, the Taconic boys were the No. 2 seed in the Western Mass. Division II basketball tournament, beating third-seeded South Hadley before losing to top-seeded Longmeadow in the championship game.

McNeice, the football quarterback, said standing on the field at Holy Cross with a state championship trophy was more unexpected.

"This was definitely more of a shock," the senior said. "It felt like a lot of hard work paid off for the football one, but this was just awesome to come win a state championship.

"This has never happened in the history of Taconic. It feels great to make history."

Reach sports writer Howard Herman at 413-496-6253 or @howardherman.


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