Christian Womble is a rare talent.
And on Saturday afternoon, he used the most of his second chance to pitch the Taconic baseball team to its second state championship in three years.
Womble struck out 12 Medway hitters in a masterful 4-1 win as Taconic earned a Division 3 state crown to go with the D1 state title it won in 2017.
For Womble, it was the culmination of a redemption tour that began almost a year ago to the day, on a yellow school bus, after a bitter disappointment in the 2018 D3 state title game.
That day, Womble would have been Taconic's starting pitcher, but his grades kept him on the sideline as his teammates missed a chance for back-to-back state titles.
"That whole bus ride was just torment because I knew if I'd pitched that game, I feel like it could have been a lot better and a lot more in favor of our team," Womble said. "[The 2018 seniors] told me: Next year, you've got to come back and win it. You can't let your grades keep you from that.
"Now, I'm an honor student. I'd just like to say thank you to them: [Michael Kays, Michael O'Brien, Austin Rachiele, Cedric Rose and Colby Sherman], all of the seniors who were on that team. I'd like to say thank you to them."
On Saturday, he also could say thank you to this year's teammates for giving him some much needed offense in the last two innings.
Taconic jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first thanks to Womble's one-out triple to center field and Leo Arace's RBI single two batters later.
But that is where the score stood for a long time as Womble mowed down Medway and Taconic squandered baserunners.
In the fifth, Brendan Stannard gave Taconic a little bit of breathing room.
The inning started when Jake Harrington led off with a single to right. Luke Whitehouse came in to pinch run and moved up on Anton Lazits' single. A ground ball to second left Taconic with runners at the corners and one out for Stannard, who laid down a perfect suicide squeeze. Whitehouse scored with ease from third base, and Stannard reached on the play.
"Brendan is a great bunter," Taconic coach Kevin Stannard said. "He does everything well. I trust him. And Luke got the right jump, and it worked."
Medway got the final two outs without any more damage, but Taconic had a 2-0 margin.
It came in handy when the Mustangs broke through for a run in the top of the fifth. A two-out walk and a stolen base put a man in scoring position for Matthew Kaplan, who delivered only the second hit allowed by Womble to make it a 2-1 game.
In the sixth, Taconic mounted a two-out rally of its own.
First, Michael Britten reached on a two-base infield error. Then Harrington doubled to right-center to make it 3-1. He then came home when Lazits tripled to left-center for Taconic's 10th and final hit of the game.
Harrington and Womble graduate from a Taconic program that has established itself as the gold standard in Western Mass and one of the top teams in all of Massachusetts in the last few years.
"Our record these last four years is unbelievable," Stannard said. "Three years now, we've played 75 games, two state titles, three Western Mass titles. ... The coaching staff is outstanding, how they work with them.
"We were young [this year], and the nice thing is four of those kids -- four freshmen played in this game last year. Obviously, this wasn't new for them. Still nervous being a sophomore. But some of the other freshmen and sophomores have stepped up with them right along the way. The future is what they make it. If they want to get back here again, it's going to take hard work. Someone is going to have to fill Christian's shoes and Jake's. Jake had a great run in this tournament."
Helping to keep South Division champion Medway (17-6) from getting any more runs was a Taconic defense that did not commit an error until there were two out in the top of the seventh.
Womble and Bo Bramer each contributed a highlight reel play.
In the fifth, Womble sprinted off the mound to snag a swinging bunt on the third base line and fired a bullet to Harrington at first to record the second out of the inning.
In the sixth, Bramer charged to his right and dove to grab a sinking line drive and deny Medway's leadoff man extra bases.
"You can tell how athletic Christian [Womble] is," Kevin Stannard said. "The ball right back up the middle [in the third] and then the swinging bunt down the third baseline. And Bo ... Defensively, we've been solid all year, and that didn't change. We gave up three runs this whole Western Mass and State Tournament."
Taconic outscored its five post-season opponents by a margin of 26-3 and finished the season with a record of 22-3.
Half of those wins were earned by Womble on the hill. He went 11-0 with a miniscule .63 earned run average while striking out 117 and walking 24 in 66-2/3 innings of work.
Stannard said that he and the coaching staff did not need to do much to keep Womble's emotions in check during a season that had to be one long march to redemption for the senior.
"He's been great," Stannard said. "He's the one who has been focused the whole year. At the end of last year, against Austin Prep, he wasn't with us. He would have been pitching that game.
"Some unfortunate things that he didn't take care of ... but he righted that this year as a senior and wanted to get back to this point. He worked really hard to do it. And the team did behind him. I can't say enough what a quality young man he is. He just had an unfortunate incident."
Mission completed and redemption earned, an emotional Womble was able to talk about what it has been like trying to put June 2018 behind him.
"There was a lot of pressure," Womble said. "Where I'm from, a lot of coaches talk, call me overrated. Just being here holding this trophy with my teammates, my family, means a lot. And it just shows how much we've come together as a team and how young we are.
"I promise, these kids will be here for the next two years."