Taconic's Sixth-Inning Rally Secures Second Straight State Crown
PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- Finally, some normality.
A high school year that saw a fall season that most schools skipped, a basketball campaign where some squads played their first game with two weeks left in the season, football games in April, gallons of hand sanitizer and masks -- oh, so many masks -- came to an end on Monday with a very familiar sight: the members of the Taconic High School baseball team lofting a state championship trophy above their heads.
Evan Blake went 2-for-4 with a home run and five runs batted in, and Taconic scored 10 runs in the bottom of the sixth en route to a 14-10 come-from-behind win over Medfield in the Division 3 State Championship game at Wahconah Park.
Taconic successfully defended its 2019 state crown and won its third state championship in four seasons in its fourth state final in as many seasons.
The only time since 2017 that Taconic did not play in a state final was last spring, when the entire season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We worked so hard all through the off-season for last season, and we just maintained that work ethic, all the way through this off-season,” Taconic senior catcher Leo Arace said. “There are some ups and downs of COVID, but this was definitely an ‘up,’ being able to win the state championship in your city.”
Normally, Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association sectional finals and state tournament games are played at pre-determined neutral sites. Taconic’s previous state title game appearances the last five years have been in Worcester and Lowell.
This year, the post-season games were played at home sites. Given the stakes, the high degree of interest and the holiday for many people, the Pittsfield Public Schools were able to schedule Monday’s rain-delayed state final to venerable Wahconah Park.
Given the size of the crowd that jammed the stands and stood several deep along the fences, it was the right call.
That thousands of spectators came in handy when the defending champs surrendered four runs in the top of the sixth to squander a 4-2 lead.
“Definitely, the momentum changed their way for a little bit, but their pitcher lost control, and we brought that momentum back right away,” Arace said. “And the whole city of Pittsfield was here to turn us up.”
After his team took a 6-4 lead, Medfield reliever Samuel Palmer rode that momentum by striking out Blake to start the bottom of the sixth.
But Sam Sherman, who was tagged with four runs in the top of the sixth, followed with a single up the middle to ignite a titanic Taconic rally.
“His head was, you know, rattled, and he got up in the box and got us going,” Stannard said of Sherman. “And there was no looking back.”
Adam Lazits then singled to left, and Michael Britten was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out.
Matt Lee plated Sherman with a ground ball up the middle and reached on a fielder’s choice. That left runners at the corners with two out for Bo Bramer and Taconic trailing, 6-5.
Bramer reached on an infield single that brought home Adam Lazits to tie it, and then Anton Lazits was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Brendan Stannard worked a walk to give Taconic a 7-6 lead, and Arace also walked to give his team a two-run margin with the bases still loaded.
Blake, who had given Taconic a 4-1 lead with a three-run homer in the third, singled down the left field line to put Taconic up, 10-6. A two-base error, an Adam Lazits RBI single and another bases-loaded walk -- this one to Bramer -- pushed the lead to 14-6.
“Sometimes the baseball gods shine unkindly, and that was one of those days,” said Medfield coach Dave Worthley, whose team allowed eight runs combined in its four South Sectional tournament wins. “Two innings that they scored 14 runs and one 10-run inning, I haven’t seen that in a long time.
“We haven’t had an inning where we’ve given up more than three runs all year. So, that's why you play the game.”
Medfield (20-2) rallied for four in the top of the seventh, but Sherman closed the door thanks to a diving catch by Blake in left to end the game.
It was a companion piece to a diving catch by Bramer in center earlier in the game.
“Bo, Evan and Matt Lee, there’s a lot of speed, and we’re never worried when a ball gets hit to the outfield,” Kevin Stannard said. “It’s usually been caught this year. They’re just fantastic. And all three of them will be back again next year.”
At the plate, leadoff man Bramer went 3-for-4 with a walk, two RBIs, two stolen bases and two runs scored to spark Taconic’s offense. Lee was 1-for-3 with a double, an RBI and scored twice.
Anton Lazits struck out six in five innings, allowing just one earned run, but did not figure into the decision. Sherman benefited from the big Taconic sixth-inning rally to notch the win.
Interspersed in Wahconah Park’s second huge crowd in as many days were dozens of youngsters wearing Pittsfield Little League jerseys and, no doubt, thinking about what it might be like in a few years to play on that stage as high schoolers.
“Obviously, we hope more kids come to Taconic,” Kevin Stannard said, who said the city’s success at the Little League program has been a big part of his program’s run. “No doubt about it, that’s where it starts, at the Little League level and Babe Ruth, and then when we get them, we refine what we have to do.
“It makes my job easy going to practice, that’s for sure.”
For the first time in Taconic’s state final streak -- one, in 2017, in Division 1 -- practice made perfect.
As his players gathered with family and friends in Wahconah Park’s outfield, Stannard said that winning state titles never gets old.
“Obviously, it’s been a different team, but the seniors -- Brendan [Stannard], Leo [Arace], Anton [Lazits], Nick Harrington, those four have been here for three state championships in their career, and last year they didn’t have the opportunity to play for one,” he said. “Pretty impressive.
“It’s just been unbelievable. I’m fortunate. I’m surrounded by a great coaching staff, my players. Everything we’ve asked of them this year and the last four or five years, they’ve all worked hard. They work hard in the off-season, and I think that’s why we’re so successful. They do a lot of work on their own. They’re in the gym on their own.
“It’s been such a great experience being here for as long as I have. Like I’ve said, it took us 25 years to get the first one, and now I don’t want it to end.”