LOWELL, Mass. – The two teams, which were the top two seeds in Div. 1, were on a collision course all postseason. They split a pair of games during the regular season, both winning on their home fields, and it was only fitting that Saturday night’s rubber match at LeLacheur Park would determine not only who would win the season series but who would win the state championship.
Taunton (22-3) was held without a hit until a leadoff single in the fourth, but scored single runs in the fifth and sixth innings and got a stellar, complete game effort from Evan Cali to secure a 2-1 victory over league rival Franklin (23-4). The victory earned the Tigers their second D1 title in three seasons.
“They’ve got great hitters one through nine, so for him to come out and only give up one run was more than you could ask for,” Taunton coach Blair Bourque said when asked about Cali’s performance. “I was hoping to get a couple innings out of him and next guy up, and for him to come out and throw a complete game, what a great culmination of his senior year.”
Even before the season started, Taunton was searching for an ace of its staff. The Tigers relied on their full complement of pitchers to work through games, but Cali delivered one of his best performances in the final game of his high school career. He allowed only one infield single after the second inning, allowing just the one run and out-dueling Franklin starter Jacob Jette.
“I don’t think I’ve cried like this in a long time,” Cali said after the game, smiling despite his eyes being wet from tears and shaking in the cold after getting a Gatorade bucket dumped on him by his teammates. “I thought about everyone that’s helped me and it fueled me through that entire game.
When asked what was going through his mind at the final out, Cali admitted with a laugh, “I have no idea. I threw the pitch and I prayed he didn’t get a base hit because if he did I was getting taken out.”
While the final pitching line looked stellar for Cali, things were far from easy in the opening two innings. Jack Marino singled with one out in the first and took second when Cali’s pick-off attempt was wayward. A wild pitch would move him to third and Evan Raider drew a two-out walk. Cali induced a pop up to end the threat.
In the top of the second, a walk and an error put two on for Taunton but Jette got a groundout to keep it scoreless. Franklin would grab the lead in the bottom half.
Jase Lyons got things started with a single and Eisig Chin followed by crushing a ball off the wall in right, narrowly missing a home run. With two runners in scoring position, semifinal hero Ben Jarosz singled to right center to make it 1-0. Chin was held at third and Jarosz would move up to second after almost being picked off.
Cali hit the corner to get a strikeout for the first out of the inning. A pop up in foul ground and a grounder to Dawson Bryce at short would allow the Tigers to escape the second down by only a run. It felt like a win for Taunton.
Jette was cruising for the Panthers. A perfect third dented any momentum that Taunton may have carried to the plate. He gave up a leadoff single to Ryan MacDougall to start the fourth but struck out back-to-back hitters and got a fly ball that Chin caught in foul territory in right to end the inning.
“Jacob Jette has been everything you could ask for,” said Franklin coach Zach Brown. “He’s been so important to our team and our team’s success. You have to go back six games to find a team who scored a run off him before today. He’s an amazing competitor, just a tremendous leader, does everything right, really threw well today, and gave us a chance to win a state title.”
Taunton finally struck in the fifth. Shawn Cali smashed a ball over the head of Ryan Gerety in center for a leadoff triple. After a pair of failed bunt attempts, Evan Cali put the ball in play with a grounder to short. The infield was back and Henry Digorgio’s only option was to go to first to get the out.
“I saw that our team lost for hope for a second,” Cali said about Taunton’s rally. “Once Franklin gets a run, their whole energy turns around. They’re fired up. I noticed that we were down and I talked to my coach and said, we get them in and we do a huddle and we win this game.”
In the top of the sixth, Jette got a liner to Chin in right for the first out and got two strikes on MacDougall, but the Hockomock League MVP turned on an 0-2 fastball. He sent it seemingly off the wall in right, but the ump put up his hand to indicate the ball hit above the yellow line and was a home run, putting the Tigers ahead 2-1 and sending the bench streaming out to home to meet the junior first baseman.
“We as a team, we tend to get on his back and he’s a big boy so he can carry us and he was able to get ahold of one today,” Bourque said about MacDougall. “We knew with Evan pitching we needed to put some good at bats together and fortunately for us Ryan was in the right place at the right time.”
After another perfect inning for Cali, the Tigers had the chance to add to the lead in the seventh. Senior catcher Colby DeCouta ripped a double to left and, after Franklin turned to closer James Kuczmiec, who started off with a wild pitch allowing courtesy runner Xavier Spencer to take third. Kuczmiec then chose the perfect time to attempt a pickoff attempt behind the runner, with Jarosz firing a strike to Joe Tirrell at the plate for the out.
Shawn Cali came right back with a double to center, but Kuczmiec got a hard line drive to first that Raider snagged and quickly fired to Digorgio at second for an inning-ending double play.
Franklin was fired up after getting out of the jam down by just one run. Cali quickly quelled the energy. He got a grounder to third baseman Braden Sullivan and then robbed Tirrell by getting a piece of a bouncing ball up the middle and making the throw to first while sitting on the mound.
Through the disappointment of the result, Brown was proud of his team’s season and the way the team came together this spring, “We hit a little speed bump early in the year and these seniors did a great job just bringing everyone together and staying the course. Twenty straight wins later, we’re sitting here with one game for a state title. Nothing to hang your head on, we wish the outcome was different but that’s baseball.”
Brayden Cali squeezed a pop up at second base for the final out, sparking celebrations and a dog pile on the mound. Taunton had knocked off the top seed and league champions and clinched just the second state title in program history.
“It’s not something that we harp on,” Bourque replied when asked about title aspirations coming into the season. “We can be successful without winning a state championship. Obviously it’s great to win, but we’re looking to develop young men. Seeing these guys in the community and how they represent Taunton baseball, that’s what I’m most proud of.”