TAUNTON, Mass. – Despite being limited to just two hits over the first five innings, a single and stolen base paired with a key Taunton error allowed Mansfield to break a scoreless tie in the sixth and slip past the Tigers, 2-0.
With one out in the top of the sixth inning, Mansfield left fielder Zack Peterson grounded one through the hole on the left side for only the third Hornet hit of the game. After Peterson advanced to second on a ball in the dirt, Max Boen hit a grounder to short, and attempting to nab the lead runner at third, a throw from the Taunton defense went out of play, allowing Peterson to cross the plate with the eventual winning run.
“That’s a key in baseball, any opportunity you get you’ve got to capitalize on it and you’ve got to try to limit the other team’s opportunities,” Mansfield coach Joe Breen said. “That’s kind of been the story of our season this year. We’ve had a lot of opportunities with a lot of runners on base and haven’t been able to get them in, and the last two weeks of the season so far we’ve been executing a little bit better, we’ve been putting a little bit more pressure on other teams and guys have been doing their jobs, so it’s been good to see.”
Mansfield added an insurance run in the seventh inning as designated hitter Colin Gibbons was hit with a pitch, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Aidan Cahill, to third on a single by Charlie DeMassi, and home on another Peterson grounder that found a hole in the Taunton defense. DeMassi took off on the pitch, forcing Taunton second baseman Kevin Griffin to cover the bag and leaving the right side vacated for Peterson to drive one through into right field and bring home the run.
“We were eliminated on Thursday but we knew we had two big games against two really good teams in Taunton and Bridgewater-Raynham,” Breen said. “Our guys, to their credit, said we’re not giving up, we’re not laying down and we’re going to come out and play the two hardest games we can to end our season with some pride and, led by our seniors, those guys came out today.”
Hornet senior starting pitcher Jack Neureuter kept the Tiger offense off the board over six innings of work, scattering six hits while striking out five and walking only two, one intentionally.
“He’s come out and demanded the ball four out of the last five games and he’s delivered in every single one of the those opportunities,” Breen said. “Jack was the key to today’s victory for sure.”
Taunton did have opportunities to take the lead early in the game, but Neureuter’s pitching combined with stellar defense behind him ended multiple Tiger threats. In the second inning, Taunton first baseman Charles Hearrold III doubled to right center field with one out. Right fielder Dan Noonan then lined one to left center, but DeMassi made a diving catch moving to his right, gained his footing, and fired into second base for an inning-ending double play.
“Charlie is a senior captain who struggled a lot through the beginning of the season and has not been in the lineup for a little bit,” Breen said. “We put him back in the lineup today as a senior captain to try to lead us to a late season win, and he did just that. Those are the types of plays he makes, that’s just a senior captain being a senior captain right there.”
An inning later, with Griffin on second base, Cahill, the Mansfield third baseman, went to the backhand to stab a hard Luke Figueira groundball and throw him out at first. Taunton later had the bases loaded with one out in the fifth inning, and after Neureuter induced a strikeout, Figueira laced one to center field, but DeMassi was there again to make a sprawling grab and end the inning. Taunton left eight runners on base in the game.
“Their center fielder did that to us the first game as well,” Taunton coach Jeff Sylvia said. “He has a great first step, and that’s a matter of talent and coaching. He expects the ball every pitch, and credit goes to Coach Breen for having his kids ready to go today.”
Though he was charged with the loss, Figueira pitched the complete game for Taunton, allowing six hits while striking out three. He allowed just two runs, one unearned, and stranded runners on the corners in both the sixth and seventh innings to give his team a chance.
“They wanted it more than we did, which is a shame,” Sylvia said. “That’s on me, not getting my team physically or mentally ready to play today. Unfortunately I feel like I failed the kids today. Mansfield showed up, they played hard, they played with heart, and they wanted it more than we did.”
Taunton also missed a chance to claim a share of the Kelley-Rex Division title and will now await the result of King Philip and Stoughton on Saturday. If KP wins, the Warriors win the division outright, but if Stoughton wins, Taunton and KP will share the title.
“They beat us, they took it from us, and that’s pretty much it,” Sylvia said. “We’ve got to get back to the drawing board and now we have to work on finding our groove again for the tournament.”
Mansfield baseball improves to 8-11 overall, 7-9 in the league and will travel to Bridgewater-Raynham on Wednesday afternoon. Taunton, now 13-5 overall and 11-5 in the league, will play the first of two non-league games to close out the year with a trip to New Bedford on Wednesday evening.