With One-Hitter, Lazits Lifts Taconic to State Title Game
WESTFIELD, Mass. -- To hear Anton Lazits tell it, there was nothing fancy about his performance on Wednesday in the state Division 3 semi-finals.
But there was definitely something special about it.
The Taconic sophomore struck out 11 hitters, retired the last 13 men he faced and surrendered just one hit in pitching Taconic to a 5-0 win over Hudson and a berth in Saturday's state title game against Medway at LeLacheur Park in Lowell.
"I mixed locations, mixed speeds, changed up my tempo throughout the game," Lazits said.
That seemingly simple approach was enough to hold the Hawks at bay and protect the 4-0 lead Taconic earned in the top of the third inning at Westfield State's Bud and Jim Hagan Field.
It was the second year in a row that Lazits has gotten the ball to start the state semi-final, and hit was his second straight start at Westfield State, site of the Western Mass semi-finals.
Taconich coach Kevin Stannard said that Lazits was able to settle into the game faster this time around.
"The last time we played here, in the first inning he threw probably 27 or 28 pitches," Taconic coach Kevin Stannard said of Lazits. "That's an amazing amount for him. Usually, he's a strike thrower. And he ended up with 16 [strikeouts] that day.
"Today, it was a seven- or eight-pitch first inning, and I knew he was on right away. He just really located all three of his pitches, and it was just a solid performance."
Taconic Saturday will make its third straight state finals appearance and go for its second state crown in three years. Two years ago, it won it all in Division 1 before moving to Division 3 last spring.
It goes to this year's final with a record of 21-3 and a playoff run in which it has outscored four opponents by a margin of 22-2.
That playoff run began after Taconic's regular season ended with a double-whammy on the last day of the season: losses to city rival Pittsfield and Westfield on the same afternoon.
Lazits said it was not too hard to shake off those setbacks and refocus for the tourney.
"Well, those two losses were against the first and second seed [Western Mass] D1, so we weren't too worried about that," he said. "Plus, we were 17-3 in the regular season, so...
"After the game, we were a little disappointed, but then we had a week of practice, and our mindsets changed throughout that week."
On Wednesday, Taconic did most of its damage in the third inning, scoring four runs on four hits to take a 4-0 lead.
Lazits got the rally started with a single up the middle. After Christian Womble worked a walk, Brendan Stannard laid down a sacrifice bunt to move both men into scoring position.
Lazits scored on a wild pitch, and Leo Arace singled down the first base line to score Womble and give Taconic a 2-0 lead.
Arace then stole second and went to third on Bo Bramer's single to left before Dylan Burke earned a walk to load the bases with one out.
Jake Risley singled to left to score Arace, and Mike Britten laid down a suicide squeeze bunt to plate Bramer and make it 4-0.
"We haven't really played [small ball] this year," Stannard said. "We beat a lot of opponents by double digits early in the season, and we haven't used it. But every day in practice, we work on situations that it calls for.
"So I'm glad that Brendan laid down a great sacrifice, and then the squeeze worked to perfection."
In the sixth, Taconic tacked on an insurance run when Britten led off with a single and moved into scoring position on a sac bunt by Jake Harrington. Lazits then reached on a two-base error that sent Britten to third. After Hudson intentionally walked Womble to set up a force play, Stannard worked a bases-loaded walk to score Britten with the game's final run.
It was more than enough insurance for Lazits, who allowed just one hit, a leadoff double in the bottom of the second. That batter reached third on a sacrifice, but Lazits stranded him by walking the next two hitters.
Hudson's only other baserunner the rest of the way came on a two-out error in the bottom of the third, and he failed to advance.
""I'm just really proud of these kids, and they should feel really good about themselves," Stannard said. "Hopefully, we can take care of business on Saturday."