WORCESTER, Mass. -- For the second year in a row, the Taconic baseball team is going to the state championship game.
And for the second year in a row, a gutsy performance by an ace pitcher on short rest is a big reason why.
Christian Womble on Tuesday went to the mound with one out in the fourth inning and went the rest of the way to pitch Taconic to a 5-3 win over Auburn in the Division 3 state semi-finals.
Cedric Rose blasted a game-tying home run in the fifth. Austin Rachiele provided a clutch two-out single to score the game-winning runs in the sixth.
And Womble made it stand up by allowing just two hits and two walks in 3-2/3 innings of work after moving over from shortstop. On Saturday, the junior right-hander threw a complete-game two-hitter in the Western Massachusetts championship game.
Bringing him back on short rest was reminiscent of a year ago, when then Taconic senior Izaiya Mestre came back three days after a complete-game win in the sectional to throw an inning of scoreless relief in an extra-innings win in the state semis. He then went on to cap his storied Taconic career with a win in the D1 state final.
"I grew up watching 'Z,' " Womble said. "I live right next door to him. I grew up playing baseball with him. He's one of my mentors. I love him to death."
And Taconic coach Kevin Stannard loves having another reliable option to go to on the mound.
"I think it's their makeup," Stannard said. "The knock on Christian early in his career as a freshman and sophomore was that he was a little 'soft.' Honestly, he's been anything but that this year.
"He always wants the ball. The day after we play a big game, he's like, 'Coach, I can finish a game.' And Izaiya had that same makeup. They're both the same. It's something that maybe for their teammates and the program, they want to do well, and they'll do anything they can."
Taconic (20-4) and the defending D3 state champs traded first inning runs on Tuesday at Tivnan Field.
Rachiele singled, moved up on hits by Womble and Anton Lazits and scored on Brendan Stannard's walk to put Taconic up, 1-0. But the Rockets answered in the bottom of the frame.
Taconic went back in front in the second when Rachiele (2-for-3, 3 RBIs) hit a sac fly to score Colby Sherman.
Auburn rallied for a pair of runs in the fourth to take a 3-2 lead against Lazits (3-1/3 innings, two earned runs). Womble came on and closed the door -- getting the first of two big defensive plays to help his cause.
Auburn had the bases loaded and one out when Rose pivoted a 5-2-3 double play, taking a throw from third baseman Sherman and relaying on to Jake Harrington at first to retire the side.
Taconic then tied the game in the top of the fifth when Rose launched a 1-0 offering over the fence in center field for his third home run in his last two games to make it 3-3.
The winning rally in the sixth started when Leo Arace drew a one-out walk and moved up on a passed ball. Sherman singled to right and took second on a throw home to put men at second and third.
After a strikeout, Rachiele came to the plate with two out and hit a hard shot up the middle that caromed off the pitcher's glove, took a wicked hop in front of the second baseman and went into the outfield, allowing both men to score.
Womble pitched around a one-out single in the sixth.
In the seventh, he struck out the first man he faced and then got a big assist from Nick Harrington, who ran down a fly ball in right field for the second out.
"I see Nicky, I see him take off, he has a great read on it," center fielder Rachiele said. "I'm running toward him, screaming, 'Back, back, back!' His glove goes up, he snags it. I don't think the umpire knew he had it, but I knew he had it. He's done it before."
"That was an amazing play," Womble said. "The kid's a freshman, and we call him up for a reason. He plays an amazing right field. I love him to death for that catch."
It came in handy. Womble (four Ks) hit the next batter and then allowed a single, putting the potential tying run on base. But then he got the next man to look at a called third strike to ignite the celebration.
"It's so exciting," Womble said. "I don't even know how to talk right now."