PITTSFIELD, Mass. – After walking the first man he faced and allowing that runner to score, Matt Lee was, well, Matt Lee.
And the Taconic baseball team is once again the best team in Western Massachusetts.
Lee struck out six in and allowed four hits in 6-⅔ innings Monday as the Thunder beat Pittsfield, 7-2, at Wahconah Park to claim the Western Mass Class B Championship.
Lee helped his own cause by going 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI at the plate. But his primary job was to pitch, and it is one he has done well enough to earn a 9-1 record and a .43 earned run average.
And on Monday, he did that job despite some early struggles.
“Early on, I kind of couldn’t find control of my fastball, so I mixed in my slider and the curveball,” Lee said. “As the game went on, I felt I got more control of my fastball so I could use it more.
“I think I had to go at guys more. I was being a little passive, and I wasn’t really going at ‘em. Once I found my fastball, I started going at ‘em, they started putting balls in play. We have the best defense in the state, so I have no doubt these guys are going to make the plays.”
The Thunder (19-1) made enough on Monday to win its fifth straight Western Mass crown, even if the stakes were a little different this time around.
In past years, a Western Mass sectional title was a ticket to the state semi-finals. This year, with the advent of the statewide tournament, the District 1 Western Mass regional tournament is a precursor to the state tourney that gets under way when the seeds are announced on Wednesday.
“Obviously, [the Western Mass tournament] is part of our goals every year,” Taconic coach Kevin Stannard said. “We joined a new league this year which was a lot more competitive than playing in Berkshire County last year with COVID and everything. I thought we did a great job playing some really great teams and great pitchers we saw and winning the league down there.
“Obviously, another goal is winning Western Mass, and our third goal is still waiting.”
The new playoff format also means that a Western Mass tournament loss does not end things for Pittsfield (11-9). The Generals head into the D3 tourney with four wins in their last five games and a stronger showing in the rematch against Taconic, a team that earned a 10-0, five-inning win the first time they played.
Pittsfield wasted no time Monday making sure there would be no shutout this time.
Cam Sime drew a leadoff walk and moved around on three pitches to the backstop before Lee was able to right the ship and end the inning without any more damage.
Sime then sat down the side in order in the bottom of the first and retired the first four men he faced before Adam Lazitz drew a second inning walk to start a three-run rally for the Thunder.
Lee singled and scored, Stevie Zuccalo drove in the tying run with a bases-loaded walk, Kaden Codey hit a sacrifice fly and Bo Bramer capped the rally with an RBI single.
Taconic tacked on three more runs in the fifth, which started with a Sam Sherman (2-for-3) leadoff double. Lazits doubled in a run, and Lee drove in a run on an infield single. In between, Antonio Scalise dropped down a suicide squeeze bunt to bring in Nick Guachione.
“We tried that earlier in the year with Antonio and Evan [Blake] was coming down, and he gave it away too early, and Antonio popped it up,” Stannard said. “This time, it just worked out that [Pittsfield coach Drew Pearce] went out to talk to Cam [Sime], and I said, ‘On the second pitch, I’m not going to give you any signs. We’re just going to do it.’
“Guac did a great job not giving it away, and Antonio laid down a perfect bunt.”
Pittsfield got one run back in the top of the sixth when Patrick Rindfuss singled, went to third on Chase Racine’s double and scored on an infield single by Nick Brindle.
But Taconic scratched out another insurance run in the bottom of the frame.
Lee retired the first two batters he faced in the top of the seventh, but with the starter up against the pitch count, Lazits moved to the mound from second base to close out the win.
And for the second time in 11 months, Taconic got to celebrate a post-season title in front of its hometown fans.
“We’ve been here before with the state championship, kind of the same setting,” Lee said. “It’s nerves before, but once the game sets in, it’s just a baseball game. Before the game, it’s more in your head, but once the game starts, you don’t really think about it.”