Past Disappointments Help Fuel Mounties' Run
Update: The MIAA on Tuesday morning postponed all baseball semi-finals scheduled for Tuesday afternoon due to rain.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- On a warm, sunny afternoon on Saturday in Amherst, Eric Hirsch's mind wandered back to a chilly mid-November night.
"I can tell you from a personal standpoint, but also speaking for the other soccer players on the [baseball] team ... we have been to I don't know how many Western Mass finals and semi-finals and come up empty every time," Hirsch said. "We were looking at this as, 'This is our chance. We're the number one seed. This is ours for the taking.
"We got so close, and we knew this was our last chance to make up for that. We just came in there with a lot of energy."
And the Mounties put that energy to use, pounding Hampshire, 11-0, in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Championship Game and earning a berth in
Tuesday Wednesday afternoon's state semi-final against Auburn at Westfield State University
Saturday's victory gave Mount Greylock its first baseball sectional title in six years, but Hirsch had a different drought in mind.
"I'm not sure all of us had the same approach," he said at the start of practice on Monday. "My approach probably wasn't even the best approach. I was truly playing [the season] as if my life was on the line. I was playing with a little rage, definitely a little anxiety.
"But I think at the same time, [assistant] coach Agostini told me before the game, 'You've got to out and have fun with your friends and whatever happens happens.' On the one hand, it was all business. But on the other hand it was just going out and having a little fun, be light, be talking, be excited we were on that UMass field.
"I know a lot of us have come so close in the past."
Mount Greylock was never closer -- on a soccer pitch -- than last November, when the Mounties battled longtime nemesis Belchertown through 100 minutes of scoreless soccer only to lose in the sudden death phase of a penalty-kick shoootout.
It was the kind of loss that could fuel anyone's rage, and it would be understandable if Hirsch, Dan Flynn and Ian Brink -- all starters in soccer and baseball -- carried a little bit of urgency into the rest of the athletic calendar.
On Monday, however, Brink downplayed the fact that he and the other eight seniors on the baseball team entered the spring with one more chance to earn a Western Mass title.
"At this point in the season, we shouldn't be putting pressure on ourselves because we've already accomplished most of the goals we put down on paper at the beginning of the year," Brink said. "I'm not saying this next game isn't important because obviously it is. ... It's key for us to not put pressure on ourselves and keep it loose and play the game we love."
Mount Greylock coach Steve Messina did what he could to keep the team team loose.
"I really didn't bring up the whole year-long senior thing until after our game against Hampshire," Messina said. "I talked to them about how they've gone through a lot since last August. The soccer team had a heart-breaker, the football team did what they did, the basketball team lost a tough one in the tournament, the hockey team, which we have a couple of guys on, lost in the championship. They had some moments where they were close and just couldn't get over the hump.
"So I told them that what they were able to do was earned. They deserved it - not just from working from the middle of March on but working hard from August until that point.
Messina said the players may have talked among themselves about the "big picture" of coming so close to a sectional title before Saturday, but he was not about to.
"We don't want them pressing," Messina said. "In this game, especially, it's hard enough without other things weighing on your mind. We try to focus on just performing every day and getting better every day."
Mount Greylock's mental approach has paid off in the playoffs, where the Mounties outscored their opponents 31-6 in three wins.
Messina's pitchers have not allowed more than three runs in a game since May 21 -- in a win over Division 1 Pittsfield. And just six teams have scored more than three runs against the Mounties all season; none has scored more than six, a total Mount Greylock allowed just once, in a 13-6 win over D1 West Springfield.
"We've got some pitching options," Messina said, declining to name is Tuesday starter. "Eli [Holland] gave us a great day the other day. We were comfortable giving him the ball. But that means we have Ian [Brink], we have Adam [Hall], we have Brodie Altiere, we have Josh [Jezouit]. Josh has been throwing really well. We've got some kids we can hand the ball to and feel comfortable about. It's a nice feeling to have."