FRANKLIN, Mass. — The Hockomock League runs through Franklin — again.
The Panthers clinched their fourth straight Kelley-Rex crown with a 7-4 verdict over rival Taunton, sweeping the season series against the Tigers and staying undefeated at 15-0.
The bottom of Franklin’s lineup spearheaded a six-run second inning and senior right-hander Alfred Mucciarone struck out 10 — his fifth double-digit strikeout performance in six starts — in a complete game effort.
“It’s a balancing act,” said Franklin head coach Zach Brown of dealing with all of the storylines surrounding the matchup with the Tigers, including a second rematch of last year’s Division 1 state championship. “Sometimes when you have all this motivation it can work against you in baseball. We have to trust our leadership and when you have these veterans, who are saying all the right things, it makes it easier.”
After leaving the bases loaded in the first, Franklin’s big offensive inning came an inning later. Senior and seven hitter Ethan DePaolo found a hole in the left side for a leadoff single and senior Luke Sidwell battled back after falling behind 0-2 to leg out an infield single. Senior Ryan Carlucci, inserted into the lineup at first base due to an injury, smoked the second pitch he saw to the base of the center field fence to plate the first run of the game.
“It just lengthens us,” Brown said of the production from the bottom of the lineup. “We were playing today without Benny Jarosz, and Ryan Carlucci comes up and has that big double, and he was really good the other day against King Philip too. The bottom part of our lineup has been really productive and they’re relentless with their at-bats. They go down two strikes and they battle away, extending at-bats, seeing more pitches. Sometimes they will go down but what they’ve done is made it easier for the next guys coming up. It’s a team approach to offense and those guys have really developed their own identity. We can do a lot of different things with them and they now know what we’re looking for from them and how they can be effective out there.
“The bottom part of our order is relentless and they got us going there. That gave our more veteran guys an opportunity with runners in scoring position. They’ve worked really hard, great attention to detail, and to see it pay off in games is rewarding.”
That set the stage for the heart of the lineup as leadoff hitter Ryan Gerety (Northeastern) ripped an opposite field double to bring in two. After a single from Jase Lyons, senior Eisig Chin (Stonehill) had a line drive to right — Franklin’s sixth straight hit — for another run. A balk brought a run home and junior Henry Digiorgio (Northeastern) had an RBI groundout to extend the lead to 6-0.
Franklin had only allowed a total of eight runs in its first 14 games so the big second inning certainly put the Panthers in prime position.
But Taunton answered quickly and kept it close the rest of the way. Junior Andrew Cali and senior braden Sullivan had back-to-back one-out singles before Mucciarone got the second out with a strikeout. Senior Dawson Bryce, who will be joining a slew of former Panthers next year at Merrimack, delivered the big hit as he smacked a three-run homer over the left field fence to make it 6-3.
The bottom half of Franklin’s lineup delivered again as Sidwell, the eight hitter, turned a routine base hit into a double with his speed in the bottom of the third. A groundout from Carlucci moved the runner to third and Sidwell came flying home on a wild pitch to give the Panthers another insurance run.
“All year, we’ve been able to limit damage but we knew coming in we wouldn’t be able to afford too many mistakes,” said Taunton head coach Blair Bourque.
“They made us pay the price and we have to do a better job of limiting it. Dawson’s swing got us back in it and we got a little momentum there but Mucciarone is the best pitcher in the state for a reason. We knew it’d be a dogfight and we’d have to be at our best but we weren’t good enough.”
Mucciarone didn’t have much trouble the rest of the way, retiring the side in order in the fourth (two strikeouts), working around a two-out walk to Ryan MacDougall in the sixth, and sat the Tigers down in order in the seventh, punctuated with his 10th strikeout.
Taunton was able to pull one back in the fifth when Cali reached on an error, stole second, took third on a throwing error, and came home to score on Sullivan’s groundout.
“He’s just a special competitor,” Brown said of Mucciarone, who improved to 6-0 on the year with 62 strikeouts. “He’s everything you’d want in an ace: he’s got great stuff, he has tremendous ability, but more importantly are all his intangibles. He’s a tremendous competitor, a great leader for our younger pitchers, and he does so much on a daily basis in our dugout. We’re thankful we have him, he can make you look like a good coach.”
As the Tigers battle some injuries to their rotation, they did get some positive innings from both MacDougall, who was making just his second appearance on the mound, and Bryce, who made his fourth relief appearance of the year.
MacDougall allowed one hit and two walks, striking out two in two scoreless innings while Bryce had two strikeouts while pitching a shutout sixth inning.
“With Jack [Cali] and Shawn [Cali] injured, we’ve kind of had to rely on some other guys,” Bourque said. “We weren’t anticipating having to use Ryan too much on the mound but we’ve had to start to have him throw some bullpens. Dawson’s been able to come in all year, and we’re being cautious with his arm, and his stuff is electric but we can’t use him much more.”
Franklin baseball (13-0 Hockomock, 15-0 overall) is back home on Tuesday evening to take on the Rocketeers of North Attleboro at 7:00. Taunton (9-4, 11-4) has a non-league matchup at Plymouth North on Monday.
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