WORCESTER, Mass. — It turns out the “fifth best team in Western Mass” is the best team in the whole darn state.
Izaiya Mestre struck out seven and scattered five hits on Saturday to lead Taconic to a 5-1 win over Wellesley in the Division I State Championship Game at Fitton Field.
Mestre won his fourth game in 11 days, Jack Cooney went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, and Jake McNeice was 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and a pair of RBIs as Taconic, which went into the Western Massachusetts tournament as the No. 5 seed, won its fifth straight in the postseason.
“Chills, honestly, it’s just crazy,” Mestre said of his immediate reaction when shortstop Drew Demartino smothered a ground ball and fed second baseman Matt Stracuzzi for the game’s final out. “To win states, being the five seed and having everyone saying we don’t have a good schedule and all this stuff.
“They can’t say that now. We’re state champs.”
Taconic (24-1) got just the performance it was accustomed to getting from Mestre, even if things did not start exactly according to plan.
The senior ace, who did not allow an earned run all spring, beaned the game’s first hitter, who eventually came around to score on a one-out sacrifice fly for an earned run and a 1-0 Wellesley lead before Taconic came to bat.
“But no panic in us,” Taconic coach Kevin Stannard said. “We were able to get him out of the inning with one run. We knew we had to get a score to win anyway.
“Their pitcher threw well, but we upped his pitch count. We know he’s a sophomore; obviously they’re obviously looking out for his arm. They bring in the reliever and we get a couple of runs off him.
“An ‘Z’ shut the door the rest of the way.”
Wellesley soph Henry Weycker, who has made a verbal commitment to Division I Virginia Tech, allowed one earned run before leaving after four innings.
Taconic earned that run in the bottom of the first when Cooney led off with a double to right, and McNeice brought him home with a double up the middle. He was thrown out at third base trying to stretch a double into a triple, and that was all Taconic could manage against Weycker despite getting a Cooney single in the third and a Mestre double down the first base line with two out in the fourth.
In fact, Taconic squandered a number of chances in the first four innings. In addition to McNeice getting caught at third, the team had a runner get picked off at second base and stranded four runners by the end of the fourth inning.
In the fifth, it started cashing in on its chances.
Deonte Sandifer led off with a single and was erased on a fielder’s choice from Cooney. McNeice then followed with his second double of the game to score Cooney. McNeice moved up on a wild pitch and scored on a single by DeMartino to make it 3-1.
In the sixth, Devon Walker started a two-run rally with a two-out double. Anthony Whiteley, running for Walker, went to third on a wild pitch, and Sandifer was hit by a pitch and stole second to put two men in scoring position for Cooney.
Cooney delivered a single to left to score both runs and give Mestre more than enough breathing room.
Not that nerves have been much of a factor for Stannard’s team.
“I think from [Mestre] being in the Western Mass basketball finals, like most of these kids, and football for some of these kids, nerves weren’t a problem for us, and I don’t think it’s been all year,” he said. “They’re just cool and calm and collected all the time.”
That showed from the moment Taconic arrived at the park.
“We’re always loose before the game,” McNeice said. “The way we get loose is by picking on Drew DeMartino. He’s one of our best players, but we like to humble him down a little bit by picking on him. That’s how we get loose.”
Mestre agreed that “loose” was the order of the day.
“Twelve seniors, and we’re just living in the moment,” he said. “We were just loose the whole time, messing around, throwing balls at each other. Coming here, we just knew we had to play baseball and do what we did all year.
“That’s what we did.”
And Taconic won, like it has been doing all year in three sports and a lot on the baseball diamond the last two springs.
“The last two years, they’re 45-4, and all four [losses] are one-run games,” Stannard said. “That tells you how good they are.”
And for a senior class that has been epically good, the final day of its athletic career was the sweetest.
“This definitely feels better, a state championship’s amazing,” said McNeice, the quarterback on Taconic’s 2016 Western Mass football championship team. “I don’t think we’ve had a state championship in Taconic’s history. It’s great to make history.
“I think it’s a little bit better than football. … Even for me, honestly.”