Trailing 7-2 and just one out away from elimination, Mansfield orchestrated an improbable comeback. Seven straight Hornets reached safely, including six hits, resulting in five runs that tied the game and sent the game to extra innings.
But as quickly as the Hornets got back into the game, the roller coaster ride came to a screeching halt.
Walpole bounced right back in the top of the tenth, scoring three runs on three straight hits with two outs, taking a 10-7 decision over the Hornets. With the loss, Mansfield is eliminated from the Super 8 tournament.
“When you get to a certain point to the game, and you’re trailing and you know there’s a lot to be done in order to get back in the game, you stay positive and just take it one pitch at a time,” said Mansfield head coach Joe Breen. “These guys just kept battling, that’s the type of team we had. Our motto over the last couple of weeks has been ‘empty the tank’ and while we lost tonight, the boys definitely emptied the tank tonight and I’m so proud of them.”
Walpole scored a run in the fifth, two more in the sixth, and broke the game wide open with a four-run seventh inning to take a 7-2 lead over the Hornets with just two innings to go.
It looked as though the Rebels were ready to celebrate with a 1-2-3 ninth inning when starting pitcher Matt Donato got the first two outs in just five pitches.
Breen called upon Chris Kelleher for a pinch-hit attempt and the senior delivered, giving Mansfield a chance with a single.
“I think Chris has probably six at-bats this year but he’s just a guy that has hits in key situations,” Breen said. “I knew he’d go out there and put a good swing on something. Fortunately, it came with two outs and sparked a rally. That’s just a senior doing the job for his team.”
Junior Mike Hargadon followed up by sending the second pitch he saw over the wall in left field for a two-run home run – the first of his career – to bring Mansfield within three runs with two outs.
“Nothing surprises me when it comes to Michael Hargadon,” Breen said. “He’s one of the hardest working guys we have on the team. He’s a ‘heat and soul’ kind of guys. He’s never played a game where he hasn’t left everything he has on the field and tonight was no different.”
Leadoff hitter Sam Nugent kept the rally going with a single and junior Dan Saraceno followed with his first hit of the game to put runners on first and second. The Hornets executed a double steal and senior Kevin Dow launched the next pitch he saw into left-center field for a two-run double, making it a one-run game.
Walpole elected to walk senior Tyler Dalton (two hits) but senior Justin Pena cashed in with his chance, driving the ball up the middle to bring Dow in for the tying run. With a Dalton at third, Donato finally got the third out with a fly ball to right.
“It starts and ends with our seniors,” Breen said. We had incredible senior leadership this year, especially out captains (Tyler Dalton, Kevin Dow, Cullin Anastasia). Those guys set the tone and the whole team follows. Kevin did a great job on the mound and Cullin has been the best defensive catcher in the state, he’s been incredible with our pitching staff. But it starts with our seniors, they led us the whole way.”
Walpole responded in the top of the 10th with its own two-out magic. Matt Falvey drew a one-out walk but a fly ball to center gave the Hornets the second out. Tyler Page picked up his first hit with a single that got by the Mansfield outfielder, allowing Falvey to score and Page to take second. Bryan Kraus and Chris McLean followed with RBI doubles to give the Rebels a 10-7 advantage.
Kyle Moran reached on an error to lead off the bottom of the 10th inning but Rebels reliever Matt Chamoun got three straight outs to seal the win for Walpole.
“It was an amazing comeback by Mansfield,” said Walpole coach Chris Costello. “Two outs, nobody on and I think it was seven hits in a row against a pretty good guy [Donato]. They weren’t cheapies either, they can hit, they are a hell of a team. But it just really speaks to our mental toughness. We’ve really grown mentally as a team as the year has progressed. We challenged ourselves and put ourselves in stressful situations for just this reason, so it would pay off in situations like this.”
After four scoreless innings, Walpole took the lead with a run in the top of the fifth. Brett Lavanchy battled to a leadoff walk, took second on a sac bunt, moved to third on a groundout, and scored when Falvey was called safe at first for an infield single.
Mansfield responded right away in the bottom half to tie the game. Cullin Anastasia beat out an infield single to lead off and took second on a groundout. With two outs, Hargadon got a blooper to fall in shallow left-center to plate Anastasia.
Walpole added to its lead with two runs in the top of the sixth. A double from Kraus preceded a triple from McLean that was ruled to have just landed in fair territory. McLean scored on a squeeze play to make it 3-1.
Dow (no decision) finished with five strikeouts, two walks, six hits, and three earned runs in six innings of work.
The Rebels’ bats came alive in the seventh inning. Aidan Murray singled and a triple from Falvey made it 4-1. Falvey scored on a hit from Hanifan while Page reached (and Hanifan took third) on an outfield error. After a hit batter, a McLean sac fly made it 6-1. Lavanchy came through with a two-out RBI single to make it 7-1.
“The defensive side, unfortunately, was kind of the key with these last two games,” Breen said. Mansfield made a total of seven errors in its two Super 8 games. “We just played probably two of our worst defensive games of the season at the worst time. Unfortunately, and it’s no excuse, but playing one game over the last week and a half…we were playing eight games in 12 days, we had a great rhythm, and then we had the break and I think it threw us off our rhythm. But in the end, no excuses, we have to come out and make the plays for our pitchers.”
Mansfield cut the deficit to five with a run in the bottom of the seventh. Hargadon got things started with a two-out single and went to third on a double from Nugent and came home to score after the ball got by the outfielder.
Sophomore John Carney pitched three innings in relief with five hits, five strikeouts and three earned runs allowed.
Mansfield baseball finishes the season at 19-5.
“We came in four years ago and we knew there was a lot of talent coming through the pipeline,” Breen said. “We wanted to put these guys in the best position possible to be at the top of the Massachusetts high school baseball food chain. And these guys earned the right to be here. While we didn’t come out with the results we wanted, no Mansfield team has been in this spot. It’s arguably the best regular season in program history. We have a lot of guys going to play college ball so this isn’t the end for them and we have a lot of guys coming back and I know they are going to remember this feeling.”
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