St. Mary's Tops Mount Greylock in State Final
WORCESTER, Mass. -- After the final out was in the books, after the trophies were awarded, after the victorious St. Mary's Spartans started mugging for the camera, even after his own teammates started to trudge to center field for a post-game meeting, Eric Hirsch lingered on the third base line.
One of nine seniors on the Mount Greylock baseball team and the veteran of so many Mountie near-misses in the postseason, Hirsch took a moment to himself after St. Mary's of Lynn's 3-0 Division 3 state title win.
"That right there wasn't an, 'Oh, we lost the game,' kind of thing," Hirsch said. "That was 100 percent a moment of realization that Mount Greylock high school sports are over.
"It's been an absolute honor and pleasure to put on the Mount Greylock uniform in all three sports [soccer, basketball and baseball]. I love all my coaches, all my teammates, and that was just savoring the moment. I might have even been the same way if we were on the winning side."
For the first time this post-season, the Mounties were on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
A team that scored 39 runs in four post-season wins was shut out for just the second time all season and for the first time by a Division 3 opponent.
St. Mary's senior Brendan O'Neil struck out nine and gave up just three hits in leading the Spartans to the school's first baseball state championship in a quarter century.
Besides slumping with the bats, the Mounties (21-4) made four uncharacteristic errors, two of them accounting for all three St. Mary's runs.
"We didn't play well," Mount Greylock coach Steve Messina said. "There were a couple of unearned runs and that mental mistake with the tag up [in the sixth]. We didn't play our best game, and you have to play your best game in this game in order to be successful.
"I feel bad for these guys. I know they're going to think about that. They're going to put that in the back of their minds without thinking about the other 20-something games they played before."
On Saturday, Ian Brink was the hard-luck loser on the mound. He struck out four and gave up just four hits.
"He's just a wonderful kid," Messina said of Brink. "Forget the baseball stuff. He's just a quality person. He's fun to be around. He's not too big for anybody else. He's friendly with the eighth-graders we brought up. He'll horse around with those guys. He's really a special person.
"He's a stud out there. I think he's an unbelievable player. But I also think he's an unbelievable person."
Messina can -- and has -- speak at length about all nine of the seniors who played their final high school game on Saturday afternoon.
That meeting Hirsch ran off to join in center field was the veteran coach's last chance to remind his players of all they accomplished.
"We won Western Mass, we won Central-Western Mass," he said. "I'm very proud of these guys the way they played.
"It was a very successful season. Yeah, we didn't win the big game the way we wanted to. But I can't look at that and say the season is a total wash because of that."
For three innings on Saturday, it looked like the Mounties would again find a way. Defensively, they got out of scrapes with resourceful play in the field and solid pitching from Brink.
In the bottom of the first, a two-out single with a man on first ended the inning when Brink took the throw from the outfield and relayed to Dan Flynn at second to catch the runner rounding the bag too far.
In the third, a bases-loaded wild pitch turned into the third out when catcher Andrew Rickus popped up to play the carom off the backstop and caught the runner from third in a rundown.
In the fourth, though, an error with one out put the eventual winning run on base. A stolen base put that runner at second and O'Neil brought him home with a single to center field.
Even then, the Mounties got something positive on the play, as Jake Benzinger took the throw from the outfield and went to second to catch O'Neil attempting to move up.
In the sixth, the leadoff man reached on an error and stole second. O'Neil drove him home with a double down the left field line to make it 2-0.
Then the next batter popped up to the right side of the infield. The Mounties thought they caught O'Neil at third attempting to advance on the out, but he was ruled safe there. Mount Greylock then tried for an appeal at second base while the play was still alive, and O'Neil alertly scored to provide the final margin.
While St. Mary's took advantage of the opportunities it had, Mount Greylock stranded runners in scoring position in each of the first three innings.
"Something like that makes a big difference in a game like this," Messina said. "You get that early lead, and it really changes the mindset for people. We had situations. We had chances to put something across. We just couldn't do it. That's a credit to their pitcher and their players. They made plays."
The kinds of plays Mount Greylock made all spring and the kind many of these Mounties have been making together for the better part of a decade. Much of the core of this team remains intact from its youth baseball days, a period that includes a 2009 Cal Ripken state championship and now Mount Greylock's third ever Western Mass title.
It has been a long road, and after Wednesday's state semi-final, the Mounties knew that it would end -- win or lose -- at Fitton Field.
"I just wanted to take it all in and enjoy it," Brink said of the last couple of days. "This is the last time I'm going to be with these guys, and my main focus was to have some fun and play our game.
"Even though we lost, I still had an amazing season with these guys. There's nothing negative to take away from it."
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