WORCESTER, Mass. -- Down 4-0 early and down by four runs in the bottom of the seventh, the Taconic baseball team Tuesday showed its fortitude … or, if you prefer, “fourtitiude.”
Drew DeMartino’s two-run, two-out double completed a dramatic comeback to tie the game, and Jake McNeice’s two-out RBI gave Taconic a 12-11 win over Wachusett and a berth in Saturday’s Division 1 State Championship Game.
In a game filled with heroes, none came up bigger than McNeice, who reached base four times and scored three times and pitched 2-⅔ innings of relief before he had a chance to deliver the game-winning hit at Tivnan Field.
“I was really just looking first-pitch fastball, and that’s what I got,” McNeice said just before his teammates dumped a cooler of cold water on his head.
“Honestly, [when I hit it], I just stopped thinking. I kind of had to go touch first and then I got tackled. That’s what happened.”
Central Mass champion Wachusett must have felt like it got tackled as well - or maybe run over by a train -- after Taconic (23-1) battled back in its last at-bat to force extra innings.
Brett Murphy started the “home” seventh by drawing a four-pitch walk, and then he scored on a triple by Izaiya Mestre to make it 11-8.
Wachusett’s fifth pitcher of the game then came in to get two straight strikeouts, and the next four Taconic hitters reached base with two out to extend the game.
First, a wild pitch on leadoff man Jack Cooney’s at-bat allowed Mestre to score and make it a two-run game.
Then Cooney singled and McNeice drew a walk with a full count to put two on for DeMartino.
All DeMartino had done to that point was go 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored. And once again, he came up big in the clutch, delivering a double to left field to chase home Cooney and McNeice and tie the game.
After Cedric Rose (1-for-2 with a sacrifice and a two-run home run) drew an intentional free pass, Wachusett finally got the third out on a ground ball up the middle to send it to extra innings.
That brought a surprise move that few were expecting: a return to the mound for Mestre, who on Saturday -- on two days’ rest -- pitched a complete game in Taconic’s Western Mass title game.
“I wanted the ball as soon as we tied it,” Mestre said. “I’m like, ‘I’m going to warm up.’ I wanted it.
“If it was close, I told [the coaches] I was good. It was gonna be close. They’re a good team. They hit the ball. Yeah, I expected [to pitch].”
Mestre was lights out, delivering just the second 1-2-3 inning of the game for Taconic’s four pitchers on the night (McNeice had the other). He struck out the first man, got a big line drive snag by DeMartino at short for the second out and got the third man to pop up to the right side of the infield.
That gave Taconic a chance to win it in the bottom of the eighth.
Wachusett’s Johnny Flynn got the first two outs on a foul ball to the backstop and a strikeout, but then Devon Walker, down to his last strike, delivered a single to right that ignited the game-winning rally.
Deonte Sandifer reached on an infield error, moving the winning run to second. Taconic coach Kevin Stannard inserted Anthony Whiteley at second base to represent that winning run.
Then Cooney hit a ground ball to the left side that could have ended the threat, but Sandifer hustled into second, beating the throw and loading the bases for McNeice.
He hit a rope into the right-center gap, Whiteley scampered home and the celebration began for Taconic.
Even Stannard admited that he was readying his end-of-the-year speech when Wachusett scored in top of the seventh to extend its 10-7 lead.
But he was not surpised that his players proved him wrong.
“I know this group, and they never quit,” he said. “They never quit. I know it’s a cliche, and a lot of coaches say that, but with this team, that’s how it’s been for these last two years. They have never quit on anything, and this just proved that they’re big-time players.”
Wachusett (19-7) provided the game’s first big moment when Barry Walsh hit a grand slam in the top of the third to give his team a 4-0 lead.
Taconic answered right away with three in the bottom fo the inning. DeMartino singled up the middle to drive in Sandifer, Rose hit a sac fly to center to plate Cooney, and Mestre was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to bring in McNeice.
Taconic then went ahead, 7-4, with a four-run fourth inning highlighted by Rose’s two-run bomb to center field.
Wachusett answered with an even bigger inning, a six-run fifth that featured a couple of doubles and left the Central Mass champs with a 10-7 lead.
Wachusett added a run in the top of the seventh to take its second four-run lead of the game, 11-7.
But Taconic would not be denied.
“We set out a goal at the beginning of the year to play 25 games,” Stannard said. “Well, we made it, and we want to win it. We’ve got one more bus ride.
“I think they’ve been through it all their lives in different situations in different sports. So when it gets to ‘crunch time’ or whatever, it doesn’t affect them. They’re like, ‘It’s another at-bat, another pitch, another fielding play or something.’ It’s a credit to how hard they’ve worked.”