Taconic baseball back playing for a second straight Western Mass. championship

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GREENFIELD — Twelve months ago, the Taconic baseball team was celebrating a Western Massachusetts championship. If the Braves can do on Saturday what they did on Wednesday, it could be two titles in two years.

"It's crazy actually. It's nuts going back to the Western Mass. finals," Taconic's Cedric Rose said. "Not a lot of people get to go to one once, and this is our second year going back."

Rose had three of Taconic's 13 hits, scored three runs and drove in five, as the top-seeded Braves routed 12th-seeded Easthampton 15-4, Wednesday afternoon in a Division III semifinal game at Veterans Memorial Field.

The top four hitters in the Taconic order scored 11 of the Braves' 15 runs. Rose hit a three-run triple in Taconic's seven-run fourth inning that broke the game wide open.

He was not as efficient on the mound, walking five in one inning of work. Freshman Anton Lazits came on in relief and pitched the final six innings, sending Taconic back to UMass Amherst on Saturday.

"My wife asked me last night 'How come you have so many gray hairs?' If she was here to watch this one, she'd know why," Taconic coach Kevin Stannard said with a laugh.

The Braves (18-4) will now play at 1:15 p.m. Saturday for a Division III championship. They will play No. 2 Frontier, who beat No. 3 Monument Mountain 8-5 in the second game of Wednesday's doubleheader. Last year, Taconic won the Division I championship.

"We didn't know what to expect at the beginning of the season, but after the first few games, we started to see what we had for talent," Taconic center fielder Austin Rachiele said. "When we need runs, we put them together really well."

That's exactly how Taconic eliminated Easthampton, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The Eagles (12-9), who upset fifth-seeded Mount Greylock and No. 4 Hampshire Regional to reach the semifinal, left the bases loaded in the first and the second innings, and only managed one run against Taconic in those two innings.

Taconic scored four runs on three hits in the first inning, and while the Braves never trailed, they could have.

Rose walked the bases loaded with two outs in the first but got Easthampton's Nicolas Soucy looking at strike three. Then in the second, Nathan Morse blooped a single behind first and Rose walked losing pitcher Austin Kuenzel and Jacob Broadhurst to load the bases. That was 49 pitches against nine hitters and not even through two innings. Stannard had seen enough.

Freshman Anton Lazits, who started at shortstop, came on in relief. He allowed one run to score, but got Mike Ryan on a fielder's choice grounder to end the inning. That made it 4-1.

"We had big hitters up there in situations where can we get that big hit. We saw Taconic do it, clear bases a couple of times," Easthampton coach Ed Zuchowski said. "Had we been able to cash in a couple of times, and we're capable of doing it, we just didn't get that hit."

The Eagles didn't get "that hit" thanks to the performance of Lazits. The freshman right hander, who Stannard described as having ice water in his veins, had a chance to pitch out of a third-inning jam. The Eagles had one hit and scored runs on a ground out and an error, when the Braves had a chance for a potential inning-ending double play.

Lazits ended up giving up three runs, but only one earned, in six innings of relief. He allowed three hits, walked four and struck out six.

Lazits said he wasn't expecting the call from Stannard quite so early.

"I was [thinking] that I didn't see this coming," Lazits said. "You've got to be ready for anything at any time."

And what was working for the freshman pitcher?

"My fastball was pretty lively," he said. "I couldn't find my curveball for a few innings, but I got it in the last few."

In fact, he retired 11 of the final 13 hitters he faced, walking one and having one reach on an error. Lazits did not give up a hit over the last three innings, and only two balls reached the outfield in the last four frames.

Taconic led 5-4 going into the home fourth when the Braves erupted for seven runs on seven hits. Taconic sent 11 hitters to the plate. Freshman Leo Arace, just up from the junior varsity hit a one-out single and that got the Braves rolling. He scored on a Rachiele RBI base hit. Two batters later, Rose hit a rocket to center, one-hopping the fence, and driving in three runs. It was a fastball from Morse.

Sometimes, when a player has trouble in one facet of the game, it impacts other facets. Rose's problems on the bump did not translate to the batter's box. He was 3 for 4, scored three times and picked up five RBI.

"I've got that mindset. I've always been a hitter. I DH'ed last year, so hitting is what I do," said Rose. "You just have to come up. Big players make big plays."

Taconic pounded four Easthampton pitchers for 11 hits. Christian Womble and Lazits each had two hits. Womble scored four runs, while Lazits and Michael Kays drove in two runs each.

"Like I've told you all year, I can't believe we're 18-4, with losing 13 guys," Stannard said. "It's a credit to how hard these kids have worked all year."

———

Easthampton     012     100     0     —     4     3     5

Taconic     410     730     x     —     15     13     3

Austin Kuenzel (0+), Nathan Morse (3 1/3), Nick Joliceur (1 2/3), Liam Burke (1) and Zack Kugler. Cedric Rose (1+), Anton Lazits (6) and Dylan Burke (1), Rose (6). W — Lazits. L — Kuenzel. 2B — T (Christian Womble, Brendan Stannard). 3B — T (Rose).

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter at @howardherman, or 414-496-6253.


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