PITTSFIELD, Mass. – After scoring just 13 runs in its last three games, the Taconic baseball team got Thursday’s Sweet 16 contest started with a bang.
Nick Guachione did the honors, hammering a 2-1 pitch over the left field fence for a grand slam that sent the top-seeded Thunder on the way to a 12-0 win over Stoneham and a berth in the Division 3 State Quarter-Finals.
“I was struggling, and I figured it out when the tournament came, so I’m happy about that,” said Guachione, who is 6-for-9 in his last three games. “I knew he was going to give me something good. He hung me a curve, and I hit it good.”
He went on to double in a pair of runs and finished the day 2-for-2 with six RBIs and a pair of walks.
Matt Lee and Damon Pause combined on a two-hitter in the 14th shutout of the season for Taconic (19-3), which moves on to play Sunday afternoon at home against No. 8 Ashland (13-9), a 3-1 winner over Fairhaven on Wednesday.
Lee helped his cause by leading off the bottom of the first with an infield single. After Christian Salzarulo was hit by a pitch, Evan Blake (3-for-4) singled to load the bases with nobody out for Guachione.
“Guac, he crushed that,” Taconic coach Kevin Stannard said. “I think he’s turned a corner these last four or five games. He’s worked so hard at it, and now it’s paying off.”
Taconic cranked up its offense again in the fifth inning with a five-run rally.
Gavin O’Donnell hit a leadoff single, and Lee was hit by a pitch before Salzarulo dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position.
“We did a lot of positives today, which is really good for us going forward,” Stannard said. “Obviously, it gets harder and harder as we know. And to do some small ball helps.”
Blake drove in O’Donnell with a single to center before Guachione delivered his two-run double to left-center. Pause singled up the middle to score Guachione and eventually came home on a wild pitch to cap the rally.
In the sixth, Blake drove in a run, and the Thunder got one man home on a double play ball and another on a pitch to the backstop.
Defensively, Taconic was flawless behind Lee and Pause.
Lee lasted five innings, striking out 10 but also walking four and hitting two batters.
“He just hasn’t been himself these last couple of weeks,” Stannard said. “I don’t know if he’s just tired. But it looked like his breaking stuff, he was tipping it off a little bit.
“It’s something we’ll work on. He won’t pitch for a little while – probably until the finals if we get that far, hopefully.”
Pause pitched around a one-out walk in the sixth and a leadoff infield single in the seventh to pitch two scoreless innings of relief. He struck out three straight to end the game after giving up a shot into the hole at second that Quentin Christopher knocked down and nearly made a play on.