Tigers End Long Wait, Bring Home State Championship

Taunton softball
Taunton junior Alexa White (right) is greeted at home by teammates after hitting a grand slam. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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WORCESTER, Mass. – In the bottom of the fourth inning, Wachusett started to hit the ball hard, scoring a run on back-to-back doubles and cutting into the Taunton lead. Although the Tigers still led by three runs, momentum appeared to be shifting to the Central champs and Taunton went to the plate looking for an instant response to take back control.

With one run home, the Tigers had the bases loaded with two outs and up stepped junior Alexa White. Wachusett starter Courtney Lanpher got two strikes on Taunton’s second baseman, but then White turned on a pitch, lifting it to deep left. The Taunton bench was almost holding its breath watching the ball sail towards the fence and almost exploded when the ball cleared it.

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White’s grand slam broke Saturday night’s Div. 1 state championship game wide open, lifting Taunton (26-2) to a convincing 13-2 win over the Mountaineers and ending an 11-year wait for the program’s fifth state title.

“It’s almost surreal,” said Taunton coach Dave Lewry, who earned his fourth title as coach of the Tigers. “I began to question whether I was ever going to get another one, you know? It just hasn’t sunk in yet, but these kids deserve it. The whole team just worked so hard for it.

“I’m just so proud of them all. They’ve had a great, great season.”

Throughout the playoffs, as a team, the Tigers have talked about trying to win this title for the senior class, which before this year had gotten as far as the South sectional final four years ago. On Saturday, they fulfilled that mission.

“They worked so hard all these years and for us to finally have a chance for it, we really wanted them to have it,” said freshman Hanna Aldrich.

The Tigers jumped in front in the first. Junior Jaime Brown (2-for-3) lined a single to center, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Liana Duarte (3-for-4), and then scored on a single by Kya Enos (2-for-4). All three played on the Taunton team that reached the South final in 2015.

In the third, Taunton got some breathing room. Brown drew a one-out walk and stole second. With two outs, Enos drew a walk and Mackenzie Handrahan knocked a single through the left side of the infield. Brown was able to slide in ahead of the tag. Aldrich (2-for-4) followed with a single of her own, which scored Enos and Handrahan for a 4-0 lead.

Wachusett got its first base runner off Kelsey White with two outs in the fourth. Ellie Moore doubled to left center and then Reagan Lowe bounced one off the fence in center to drive her in. Paige Arvidson smashed a line drive right back at White, who snared it to end the inning.

The energy was suddenly much higher from the Wachusett fans and the Mountaineers looked rejuvenated. That lasted only a few hitters.

Duarte started the rally with a one-out single. Enos reached on an error and Handrahan on a fielder’s choice after another error trying to get the lead runner. Aldrich drove in her third run of the game with a bouncer over the pitcher that left the shortstop in no man’s land.

“We kept talking about that,” said Lewry about Taunton trying to stem any momentum from Wachusett. “They made it 4-1 and I said let’s get that four-run lead back and they came right back and got it for me. You just like to keep putting the pressure on.”

After Lanpher got Kelsey White to pop up to the catcher for the second out, the Mountaineers looked like they may just escape the inning having only allowed a single run, but Alexa White stepped in to give her sister, and the team, a lift. The grand slam made it 9-1 and had the Tigers cruising.

“I already had two strikes on me,” Alexa White said, “and I was just expecting the middle pitch and I took it and it was the best feeling I’ve ever experienced. It’s something I’ll never forget. I’m so happy I could rally the team up one last time.”

Emily Todorov started the bottom half of the inning with a solo shot to left, but then Alexa White flashed the leather at second to record the next three outs. Twice she made plays to her left, cutting down grounders in the hole between first and second and then, after a Wachusett single, she tracked one down up the middle and had the presence of mind to tag the base for the force.

“My adrenaline was up and I was like, ‘I’ve got to go every which way to get this ball,’ said White about her play in the field. She moved from the outfield to second base after an injury to starter McKenzie McAloon right before the tournament and it was an adjustment at first. She explained, “Obviously, it was a big surprise to put me there because of an unfortunate injury but I knew I had to step up there and help out the infield.”

Any hope that Wachusett had of a comeback was dashed in the sixth. Taunton continued to stretch the lead and the top of the order continued to come through with big hits. Brown started it with a double to center and Duarte followed by lining a double over the left fielder’s head. She would come around to score again on an Enos single to left and it was 11-2.

In the seventh, Taunton brought players off the bench to give them a taste of the final and extended the lead further.

Freshman Tayah DaCosta, who was pulled up from JV for the postseason, lined a single in her first at-bat of the playoffs. Abbie McDonough, who played right field, followed with a double to put two in scoring position. Hailee Hartung drove in one with a groundout to second and Duarte beat out an infield single to drive in another.

With a strong defense behind her, Kelsey White closed out the game with a clean seventh inning. The freshman allowed only five hits from the Mountaineers and continued a strong tournament run that saw her allow no more than two runs in any of Taunton’s six playoff games.

“She’s really composed,” said Enos about White. “You’ll never see her upset, she’s always within herself. I’m so proud of her. She’s pitched every game of the tournament by herself. It’s emotionally, physically, and mentally tiring and she did it.”

Lewry added, “She’s been amazing all year. She’s a freshman but she pitches like a senior. What a career she’s got in front of her still and she’s already got a state championship.”

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With two outs, the ball was hit on the ground to Brown at third and she, as she has done countless times before, fired a strike to first base. Unlike all those other times, this one was for a state championship and to complete a mission that the Tigers had set out on at the start of the season.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Aldrich gushed. “Nothing has ever felt like this before.”

“I’m surprised I’m not crying because I’m so happy,” Alexa White said. “I’m just in shock because this is so incredible and I’m so happy for the seniors and…there are no words, literally no words.

Quick Start, Strong Pitching Power Taunton to Final

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Taunton freshman Kelsey White retired the first 12 batters she faced and allowed only five hits and one run in the state semifinal against Newton North. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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LOWELL, Mass. – It is a long trip from Taunton up to Martin Field in Lowell through late afternoon traffic, but the Tigers apparently arrived on their coach bus ready to go for Tuesday night’s state semifinal.

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Taunton scored six runs in the opening two innings, Kelsey White had a perfect game into the fifth and allowed only five hits, and the Tigers ended an 11-year wait to get back to the state championship game with a 6-1 win over North champion Newton North.

“It doesn’t even feel real,” said junior Jaime Brown, a four-year starter for the Tigers, about having the chance to play for a state championship. “We’ve worked so hard and it’s just falling at our feet. It’s crazy, but it just feels so good.”

White was masterful in the circle again for Taunton. Just a freshman, experiencing the postseason stage for the first time, White has not been awed by the moment and she retired the first 12 batters that she faced on Tuesday before Mia Bueno singled to lead-off the fifth.

“She pitches real tough,” Taunton coach Dave Lewry said of White. “She had everything going today, all her pitches, she was hitting her spots. I know they can hit, I know they can put the ball in play, but I’ve got to give all the credit to Kelsey. She just did a fabulous job for us.”

White admitted, “I was very nervous at first but going out there and knowing that I have the best defense behind me makes me more comfortable.” She also got help from Brown and the other upperclassmen. She said, “They pick me up every time I get down and make sure I go and get the next batter.”

Taunton helped out its freshman pitcher with some early runs. The Tigers have been strong with two outs in the postseason and they managed to rally again in the first. Kya Enos lined a single through the hole on the left side for a two-out baserunner. The senior catcher stole second and then came around to score the opening run on a base hit by classmate Mackenzie Handrahan.

The Tigers broke the game wide open in the second. This time they did not wait until there were two outs to get started, instead scoring six times before committing one.

Kelsey White was hit by a pitch to lead off and her older sister Alexa White followed by drawing a nine-pitch walk. Paige Silvia dropped down a bunt and White hustled into third to beat the throw and load the bases. The hero from the South final, sophomore Rylie Murphy, brought in the first run with a grounder to the left side, reaching on a fielder’s choice to keep the bases full.

Brown, Taunton’s lead-off hitter, emptied the bases, drilling a pitch into the gap in left-center for a triple that scored three. The throw to third bounced off Brown and to the fence in front of the Tigers’ dugout, allowing her to come home too.

“That’s always across you mind, you want the big hit, but honestly I was just looking for a single to bring a run in and chip away and getting them all in was just a bonus,” said Brown.

Lewry added, “That puts a lot of pressure on the other team. They can’t play for one run, they’ve got to be swinging the bats and I don’t think that’s their game. They like to bunt and run and get runs here or there. That was a key for us.”

The Tigers also threatened in the third and seemed to have Newton North on the ropes. Alexa White singled to start the inning and moved into scoring position on a Silvia sac bunt. Murphy singled to left to put two on and was pinch-run for by Abbie McDonough, who promptly stole second.

Newton North pitcher Mia Patriacca got Brown and Liana Duarte looking to escape the jam. Taunton did not put another batter on base, as Patriacca retired the final 11 hitters she faced.

“We kind of deflated after that and never got back to hitting the ball,” Lewry explained. “I think that kind of took our momentum away from us. They let up a little with a six-run lead, but we did what we had to do.”

Newton North finally got something going in the fifth. Bueno singled to left to start the inning, the first baserunner of the night for the North champs. Kira Flegenheimer followed with a single but was forced at second on a grounder to Hanna Aldrich. With runners at the corners, Ciara Gillen hit a weak fly ball into shallow right field that dropped just in front of McDonough and allowed the run to score.

White needed to bear down, as momentum seemed to be shifting to the suddenly loud visiting side. She got a grounder to second and then a strikeout to end the inning and preserve a five-run lead.

“They got runners on base,” White said, “but I knew we just had to get the outs and not worry about them. We just needed to get all the outs that we could.”

“Is she only a freshman?” Lewry joked. “She doesn’t act like it, I’ll tell you that. She is the calmest, coolest, most collected person on the mound that we’ve had in a long, long time. She didn’t fall apart at all, she stuck with it, threw her pitches and got us out of it.”

The visitors got a one-out hit in the sixth, but Brown made a nice play on the run to field a short grounder down the third base line and White showed her ability to field her position as she managed to move to her left to snag a tricky grounder.

In the seventh, Newton North again got a one-out hit to put the pressure on Taunton, but White induced a grounder to her sister at second to force the lead runner and then struck out the final batter looking to set off another raucous celebration.

“It’s the best experience,” said White. “It’s very nerve-wracking, but it’s the best experience. I’m very happy for [the seniors] and all I want it for is them and the team.”

Lewry was asked if he was surprised at all to see the Tigers in this position of playing for a state championship. He replied, “I envisioned this team being capable of being in this position, so I’m not surprised by it. It’s not an easy road, of course, but there’s a lot of talent here and I think the heart has shown through. Especially in the tournament, they’re in it for each other and that really makes a huge difference.”

Taunton (25-2) will face the Central champ Wachusett in the state title game at Worcester State on Saturday at 6:00. Wachusett (much like Newton North in the semifinal) was also at this stage last year and lost to Milford in the championship game.

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Noviello and Woelfel Pair Up to Fire Franklin to Title

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Franklin’s Bryan Woelfel (left) and Jake Noviello combined to pitch the Panthers past Central Catholic. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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BROCKTON, Mass. – In the bottom of the eighth inning in Monday night’s Super 8 final at Brockton’s Campanelli Stadium, it looked like Central Catholic had finally figured out Franklin starter Bryan Woelfel. A single and a double put two runners in scoring position with nobody out in a tie game.

Franklin coach Zach Brown decided that he needed to make a change and called in third baseman Jake Noviello. The Fairfield University-commit had been warming up during the Panthers at-bats just in case and was now called on to try and get out of the ultimate high-leverage situation.

“We had a shot,” said Brown about how he felt bringing in his ace in that situation. “I felt like it was a spot in the order and just knowing Jake and knowing his competitiveness I thought we had a shot.”

Noviello explained, “I pitched against them the other day and I got hit around in one inning, so I knew to just come at them tonight and just try to gas them up.” He added with a shake of his head, as the accomplishment settled in, “It’s unbelievable, unbelievable.”

He struck out the first two batters he faced in the eighth. He hit the third batter to load the bases but then closed out the inning with another strikeout in an impressive relief appearance. The first player out of the dugout to greet Noviello as he stalked off the field was Woelfel, his best friend since kindergarten.

“It’s happened a couple of times in big games and big spots,” Woelfel said about Noviello coming in to close out games for him. “There’s nobody we else we want on the mound for those final outs than Jake.”

Noviello said of Woelfel, “I owe him. I owe him big time. He’s been freaking nails all year. I love him like my brother, we’ve been friends forever and I’m just so freaking proud that we’re going out this way…as champions.”

A squeeze bunt put the Panthers ahead in the top of the ninth and Noviello was back on the mound to try and seal the win. A lead-off walk gave the Raiders hope and Central Catholic would put two on in the ninth but Noviello closed the door with another strikeout.

Franklin, the last team chosen for the Super 8 field and the No. 7 seed overall, was the champion and had done it without losing a game in the tournament. The Panthers leaned on their senior pitchers throughout the tournament with Noviello and Woelfel appearing in all four games and managing to shut down some of the top lineups in the state.


“I knew that a lot was going to be called on Bryan and I and I was just really focused on taking care of my arm, icing it every night,” Noviello said. “Just trying to do everything I could to help these guys. They’ve given everything they had all year. This is just the best possible ending I can think of.”

Despite having thrown a few innings of relief against Central Catholic in the winner’s bracket final, Woelfel never doubted that he would be ready to go against the Raiders again on Monday.

“I told coach yesterday, he was toeing the line between me and Jason [Ulrickson] who was going to pitch, and I told him I want the ball, my arm feels great,” Woelfel said. “Honestly, if my arm didn’t feel great I was going to say the same thing. I wanted the ball.”

Brown said of Woelfel, “He’s been an animal. He’s really been this way his whole career. He’s really selfless. I used to say that he’s the most underrated player in the Hock, I think I can kind of put that one to bed. He’s just nails.”

If there was any sign of tiring, Woelfel overcame it as he gutted out seven-plus innings before handing the ball over to his best friend. “It’s time to return the favor,” Brown joked about Noviello coming into get Woelfel out of a jam.

“Jake’s unbelievable and deserves everything he gets in terms of accolades,” Brown added, “Bryan has done a lot of dirty work over the years for him and it was just fitting to watch those two guys today.”

The two friends combined to throw 35-1/3 innings (all but 1-2/3 innings) over the course of four games. Woelfel won two, beating St. John’s Prep and Central Catholic (in relief), and Noviello won the others, including the opener against Wachusett and Monday’s final (in relief).

“We’re definitely going to celebrate this one,” said Noviello. “It’s something we had talked about as captains. Obviously you have goals and some of them you think might be unattainable but for some reason this team just never gave up and kept fighting to the end.

Taunton Gets Right Bounce to Beat KP in South Final

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Taunton sophomore Rylie Murphy celebrates at first after driving in the go-ahead runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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TAUNTON, Mass. – In the bottom of the sixth inning, Taunton put together a rally to try and regain the lead against King Philip (21-4) in Friday night’s Div. 1 South final at Jack Tripp Field. The first two batters reached and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt. An intentional walk loaded the bases for No. 9 hitter Rylie Murphy.

The sophomore made her first start of the playoffs, after playing a handful of games and getting fewer than 20 at-bats on varsity in the regular season, and was now up in the biggest moment of the spring against the team’s biggest rival. Taunton coach Dave Lewry admitted that adding Murphy to the lineup was a “hunch.”

It was a hunch that paid off with a South title.

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Murphy battled to a 3-2 count against KP starter Elise Pereira, who was only a strike away from escaping the jam, before turning on a pitch and smacking a grounder down the third base line. KP third baseman Jess Bonner dove but the ball hit a mound of dirt in front of her, took a huge hop, and bounced into shallow left field, bringing in the game-winning runs.

“It’s like what you have in dreams, two outs, 3-2 count, bottom of the sixth inning and you just hit it and you don’t even know where it goes and all of a sudden your coach is screaming, jumping up and down and you’re so excited,” said Murphy after Taunton’s 4-2 victory, which earned the program’s first South title since 2007.

Lewry was all smiles as he talked about Murphy and the contributions she has made to the team off the field all season. He said, “A kid who sits the bench all year, cheering for everybody, and comes into this game and gets the winning hit, unbelievable.”

He added, “She’s a kid that puts the bat on the ball all the time. You’ve got to put the bat on the ball to get hits. If you swing and miss or take a called third then you’re not going to get anything.”

The Warriors were far from finished. In the top of the seventh, Bonner ripped a hard line drive to third but Jaime Brown knocked it down and made the play for the first out. Brooke Taute and Brianna Lacy were both hit by pitches from freshman Kelsey White to bring the go-ahead run to the plate.

“Probably the most nervous she got all year was hitting two batters in the last inning,” said Lewry of White. He gathered the team in the circle to settle everyone down. “That’s one of her traits, she’s just so composed,” he added. “She’s amazing, I love her demeanor out there on the mound.”

White got a pop-up in foul ground and a soft liner that shortstop Hanna Aldrich made a nice running catch on to end the game. It meant the Tigers won the season series with KP, after splitting two games in the regular season (and losing the Kelley-Rex title to the Warriors) and fulfilled a mission for the team’s three seniors and for Brown, who was an eighth grader when Taunton made the final in 2015 but lost to Silver Lake.

“Since my eighth grade year, being here and losing, we’ve been working for this for so long,” Brown explained. “It gave you that pit in the bottom of your stomach. There was no other option; we knew we were winning today.”

Taunton took the lead for the first time in the second inning. Kelsey White lined a one-out single to left and her sister Alexa, a junior second baseman, drilled a double down the leftfield line to bring in the game’s first run.

As expected in a rivalry that is fast becoming one of the best in the state, one run was not going to be enough. KP battled back in the top of the fourth to jump in front.

Hailey McCasland led-off with a walk and moved to second on a groundout. Faith Turinese singled to right but the runner had to hold at third. After Turinese stole second, KP coach Norm Beauchemin called for a Pereira squeeze bunt, but Kelsey White fielded her position well to scoop the ball to catcher Kya Enos for the second out.

The Tigers nearly got out of the inning unscathed, but Aldrich bobbled a Bonner grounder to extend the inning and bring in the tying run. Taute followed that by crushing a ball to dead center that was inches from being gone. Instead it was an RBI-double to put KP up 2-1.

“We didn’t beat ourselves tonight and that’s what I’m proud of,” said Beauchemin of the Warriors battling back. “We know we’re going to have a tough game and they expect a tough game on their end as well.”

Taunton almost came right back to tie it after Handrahan started the bottom of the fourth with a double, but she was stranded. In the fifth, the Tigers did even the score. Paige Silvia lined a double to left center and moved to third on a sac bunt by Murphy. Brown grounded a ball to KP shortstop Meghan Gorman, who was playing deep enough to allow the run to score.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been more confident in this team in years. Even when we were down, we knew we could pick it up,” said Brown. When asked about the contributions from the bottom of the order, she added, “We’ve been working on it all season and trying to get that whole lineup going and it’s a perfect timing for all of it to come together.”

In the sixth inning, Handrahan again got things started with a single off the glove of Bonner, who was at full stretch going to her left. Aldrich lined a ball off the leg of Pereira and into no-man’s land in front of second base. Kelsey White’s sac bunt moved the runners into scoring position and Beauchemin called for an intentional walk of Alexa White to give KP a force at the plate.

It worked on the next hitter, as Silvia’s grounder to Bonner turned into the second out when the third baseman gunned down the lead runner. Murphy came up next and with the pressure on, she delivered the hit that decided the South title.

“It wasn’t only the lucky break,” said Beauchemin, “they earned the first two runs and of course they got a lucky break, but such is life. I thought it was two evenly-matched teams coming into this game.”

Lewry said, “It took kind of a bad-hop ground ball to make the difference, but we’ll take it all the time. These kids don’t quit. They’ve got a lot of guts and they hung in there and found a way to come back and do the job.”

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Murphy tried to reflect on what was going through her mind as she stepped up to the plate in the decisive moment, knowing that this was a chance to not only win the game, but also to give the upperclassman the title that they have been craving since their last final appearance four years ago.

“It’s so overwhelming,” she said. “I’m just so glad that I got to be to be able to be in the game and be around to hit the ball. I just feel so amazing to win.

“I’ve never wanted to win this for them and for everybody so badly in my entire life.”

Taunton (24-2) will face the winner of Methuen and Newton North in the state semifinal on Tuesday night at Martin Field in Lowell.

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Tigers’ Run Ends in South Final Against Needham

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Lance Law (1) takes a swing against Needham in the South final. Taunton lost 3-0 to the Rockets, the only loss of the season for the Tigers. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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NEWTON, Mass. – Taunton may have been the top seed heading into Thursday night’s South final at Newton South, the undefeated team having its best season in program history, but the Tigers were squaring off with Needham, a perennial power that had won the past three sectional titles and was only two years removed from winning a state championship.

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The Tigers (20-1) had the energy and the excitement of a program on the rise, but it turned out that the experience of having played, and won, on this stage many times before was too much to overcome. Needham won its fourth straight South crown with a 3-0 (25-16, 25-20, 25-11) sweep, although the match was closer than the final score indicated.

In the second set, Taunton led 18-15 and seemed to be on the verge of getting back into the match, but Needham ran off six straight points to grab the lead, the momentum, and eventually the control of the match.

“You have to execute at the highest level,” said Taunton coach Toby Chaperon. “They very rarely made any mistakes. They’re not going to shoot themselves in the foot. They’re going to rely on their intelligence and their execution and usually it works out.”


At the start of the match, Taunton seemed rushed. The Tigers were obviously excited about the opportunity and making uncharacteristic mistakes. Passes were just a little off target, blocks were a little too close to the net, and the Rockets seemed to take advantage of everything.

“We were excited to be here,” said Chaperon. “We were amped up to play and I think a couple of plays into it they got a couple big blocks and kind of put us on our heels right away and that’s a team when they put you on your heels, they’re going to push you right over.”

Following a Lance Law ace, Taunton trailed just 8-6, but Needham rattled off 12 of the next 16 points to extend the lead to as many as 10. To that point in the set, the Tigers had only two kills, one from Lens Esquil and the other from Collin Hunter.

Chaperon said of the Rockets, “Their defense was almost flawless. The seams that you think are open, they’re able to get them. They get touches, their back row guys are pulling them up. They just play an awesome brand of defense.”

Law had a kill and Marc DeSousa had a block for a point, as Taunton grabbed a little bit of positive play right at the end of the set and the Tigers carried that over despite falling behind in the match. They came back onto the court for the second looking much more composed and confident.

Taunton jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the second, behind hits from Law, Esquil, and Hunter. Needham answered with four straight to cut the lead to three, but Esquil again took a perfect pass from setter Ricardo DaFonseca, who was also a standout defensively throughout the match, and blasted the Tigers in front by four.

“We just rotated it up, so that we could get Lens up front a little bit,” Chaperon explained. “He’s our second best hitter and we tried to get him more swings. We thought he’s one of our better blockers and we thought he could challenge their opposite and outside hitters a little better.”

Things went back-and-forth for the next few points, with Needham getting back within one on six different occasions, but Law and Esquil always seemed to find a hit that kept Taunton in front. After a DaFonseca kill and a hit that went long, Needham took a timeout trailing 18-15. It turned out to be the moment that would seal the win for the Rockets.

Needham came out with two kills by Jack Cruickshank and one from setter Eli Wallace to tie the set. The Rockets scored the next three points before a Malik Charles kill ended the run and Gage Kingman managed to drop a shot in between the entire Needham defense to make it 21-20. Cruickshank and Cam Robins fired Needham to four straight points and a 2-0 lead in the match.

The Rockets made sure that there would be no three-set comeback from the Tigers. Needham took a commanding 8-1 lead in the third and really never looked back, closing out the match with a dominant set. There were moments of energy from Taunton, such as Charles smashing a point down the middle, but the Rockets led the set throughout.

Regardless of the result in the South final, this was the best season in program history for the Tigers and one that Chaperon believes could build for the future.

“It was fantastic. What a great ride,” he said. “They’re one of the best groups of guys I’ve ever been able to coach. Not only are they great volleyball players, they’re great citizens, great students, and they went through their tie where it was a rough road for a couple years, but look what happens.

“You’ve got the whole school behind you and that’s what high school athletics should be about. Every team deserves to play in front of crowds like this.”

Click here for a photo gallery from this game.