The same was the case in the opening round contest with Greater New Bedford as the Black Knights squeaked by with a 1-0 win.
But Stoughton’s offense could be heating up at the right time. In a rubber match with division rival Milford, the Black Knights doubled their hit production from the previous game and put a runner in scoring position in all but one inning.
The result was a convincing 7-1 win for the Black Knights in an all-Hockomock D2 South quarterfinal game, earning a season series win over the Hawks.
“I feel like we came out a little flat, especially after having so much energy on Saturday,” said Stoughton coach Mike Armour. “But I felt like we got our mojo back a little in the second inning there. Milford manufactured a run and it was like here we go, but our guys were able to get the bat on the ball. The bats had cooled off as of late. So if we can get the bats going, I know what we’re capable of. But we’re happy to have the opportunity to play again.”
Stoughton had a total of 14 base runners: scattering eight hits, reaching twice via walk, had two players get hit by a pitch, one reached on an error, and another on a fielder’s choice.
The only inning Stoughton didn’t put a runner on base, and it might have been the defense that gave the Black Knights momentum at the plate.
After squandering a bases-loaded, one-out chance in the bottom of the second, Milford came out and loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the third. Luke Rosa drew a leadoff walk and Nick Marcolini and Justin Applebee followed with bunt singles.
Matt Shaver drove in the first run of the game with a sacrifice fly but Stoughton junior lefty James Genest (6IP, 3H, 1BB, 1ER, 4K) limited the damage by getting a foul ball pop up to first and a swinging strikeout for the third out.
Junior George Currier (3-for-4, three runs, stolen base) led off with a single and beat the throw to second to allow Robbie Seaman to reach on a fielder’s choice. Currier moved to third on a fly ball by Genest and came home to score when Mike Nazzaro’s grounder was misplayed in the infield.
“Those are hits that change games and Kap’s been doing it for us all year,” Armour said. “We’ve talked before about how many hits he’s had this season with the bases loaded but I mean a bases-clearing triple in a tournament game…that’s just big time.”
Currier got things started in the bottom of the fourth with a one-out single, stole second, and moved to third on a deep fly ball from Zak Paquette. After Seaman was hit by a pitch by Milford starter Colby Pires (4IP, 6H, 1BB, 6R, 2ER, 3K), Currier raced home on a wild pitch to make it 5-1.
Seaman moved to third on a passed ball and scored when Genest drilled a two-out single through the right side for a 6-1 advantage.
Stoughton tacked on another run in the sixth inning with Currier being the catalyst again. Currier and Paquette had back-to-back singles with the former moving up a bag on a fly ball from Genest. With runners on first and third, a balk was called and Currier scored.
“It’s a tribute to these guys,” Armour said. “We knew it was going to be a battle with Milford coming to town, it always is. We had a lot of the 2017 [Stoughton] team here, [Milford] kind of came here and did us in that year and I think that was fresh in their minds being just a couple years removed. Our guys made the plays, defensively really fantastic.”
Milford didn’t have a hit after the third inning but did have a couple of chances to cut into the deficit. Rosa reached on an error to lead off the fifth inning, moved to second on a ground out but was tagged out on a ground ball. Applebee, who reached on the fielder’s choice, stole second but was stranded there.
The Hawks got to the Knights’ bullpen in the top of the seventh, adding a bit of drama to the game in the final frame. Rosa and Applebee both walked, sandwiched around Marcolini getting hit by a pitch to load the bases with two outs. But Stoughton senior Evan Jackman induced a ground ball to Currier at second. Currier finished with four putouts and four assists.
“Give a lot of credit to [Stoughton], Mike always has them ready to go and they are a good team, It’s always competitive,” said Milford coach Alex Dion. “The 2017 [Stoughton] team is here, and that was a similar story then when it was split in the regular season but we came out on top in the postseason, this year they come out on top. It’s always going to be a tough game but we didn’t take advantage of any opportunities we had and they got that big hit and I think after that, we were a bit deflated and couldn’t find a way to get it going again.”
MILFORD, Mass. – No offense to the teams that played earlier in the afternoon, but the nightcap felt like the final. From the atmosphere in the gym to the intensity of play on the floor to the ebb and flow of emotions on both sides of the net, Milford and Natick showed why they are both considered among the top teams in the state.
After falling behind in Friday night’s Central semifinal on its home court, Milford (20-4) rallied with its strongest game of the day to force a decisive fifth set. The hosts led 11-10 in the fifth only to have Natick score the final five points of the match to secure the 3-2 (25-17, 23-25, 25-21, 20-25, 15-11) victory.
“My biggest fear tonight was coming in and getting overwhelmed by the moment,” said Milford coach Andrew Mainini, “but there was never a moment in the match where I thought they gave up. Some of the points and some of the rallies, the pursuits of the ball in the fifth set were great. They may have come away with the win but I thought we left all of our heart on the floor.”
Despite a raucous crowd cheering them on, the Scarlet Hawks got off to a tough start to the match. A series of unforced errors handed Natick the edge in the first set, running off five straight points to turn a 13-13 tie into an 18-13 lead that it wouldn’t surrender. Connor Reardon was the main weapon for the Red Hawks, while Milford’s serve-receive struggled to put the ball in good positions to attack.
The second set was back-and-forth, as Milford started to find its groove and find outside hitter Joao Boaventura. The senior had six kills in the set and he was a constant menace that the Natick block had to keep an eye on.
“Our offense has come so far in the last couple weeks that there have been a lot of matches where the ball was spread out a lot,” said Mainini. “[Joao] definitely came out to play tonight, definitely controlled the match and scored some really big points for us.”
While it wasn’t the cleanest set for the hosts, who never led by more than three points throughout, Milford started to show some of its balance on offense. In addition to Boaventura and Filadelfo, Zachary Browne and Clayton Picket also got in on the action to keep the Natick defense honest in the middle of the net.
Natick tried to take the momentum back in the third set and jumped out to a 13-8 lead after three straight errors by Milford. The hosts started to battle back, with the help of a scoring error that kept Natick at 15 points. Despite the protests of the Natick bench, the officials kept the score the same and Milford took advantage to tie it after a pair of violations and a Browne block.
A kill by Filadelfo made it 17-16 but then Natick ensured that the controversy over the missing point would be short-lived by scoring nine of the next 13 points, riding the play of junior Brendan Carroll, to take control of the match.
“Their right side is not a very big guy but man does he play super well,” Mainini said. “We had a really tough time blocking the right side hitter. If we moved inside of the court, he hit outside of the block, if we moved out then he hit inside. To me, he won that match for them.”
With the season on the line, Milford put together its best set of the match. It was as though a switch had been flipped and the defense was better, the passing crisper, and the hits started to find open spots.
Browne snagged a point to bring the Hawks within one and then a block by Gabe Brandao tied the set at 6-6. Filadelfo had back-to-back hits to put Milford in front. Brandao had a block and kill that extended the lead to 11-6. Milford pulled ahead 17-12 on a kill by Boaventura, but Natick chipped away with three straight points. Needing a boost, Orellana set Picket in the middle and he buried his shot for a much-needed point.
As the crowd got louder and louder, Milford was able to hold off Natick in the fourth. Filadelfo with another couple of big hits down the stretch keeping Natick at bay and helping send the match to the fifth set.
“It would’ve been great had it been the final,” Mainini admitted, “but there was something special about it being at home and having the entire Milford community come out. The fan support was awesome. Since I’ve been here, we’ve never had an atmosphere that vibrant and intense.”
It was no surprise that the final set was close throughout. Boaventura had back-to-back kills to put Milford ahead 9-7, the second point coming after a long rally in which libero Tiago Carvalho laid out to make a spectacular dig on what seemed like a sure point for the visitors.
Boaventura added another hit to push the lead to 10-8 but then a net violation got one back for Natick and the visitors tied it on a kill by Will Landry. Browne put Milford back in front 11-10 and the crowd anticipated the completion of the comeback, but it would be the last point for Milford on the night. Natick got the final five points, four of them on errors, to grab the road win.
Mainini said, “The guys were diving everywhere to keep balls in play that I didn’t think could be. I feel like they left it all out there tonight. If a couple balls trickle over the net or are two inches in a different direction, the outcome of the game could’ve been completely different.”
The Scarlet Hawks had ample chances early but the Black Knights were able to prevent serious damage, and the home team went on to cash in during the later innings to earn a 6-3 victory.
With the win, Stoughton clinches at least a share of the Davenport title, the program’s third division championship in the last four years.
Milford put nine runners in scoring position in the first three innings, but could only turn that into three runs. The Hawks scored once on one hit in the first inning and then turned a bases-loaded situation with no outs into just a pair of runs in the second inning.
“Zak [Paquette] didn’t really have it early on but him being who he is, he had a little more leeway,” said Stoughton coach Mike Armour. “Not to take anything away from Milford, it kind of felt like we gave them three runs with the walks. Walks are tough but it was nice to see Zak settle down. The ump was consistent, wasn’t giving the belt strike so he had to adjust a little bit. We wanted to make them string some hits together so it was nice to see him make them earn it over the last couple of innings.
“We talked about having the chance to put a new banner up in the new school and now 2019 will be on it. I’m proud of the guys.”
Milford senior Matt Shaver drew a leadoff walk to open the game, moved to second on a single from sophomore Carter Scudo, and both runners moved up on a wild pitch. Paquette got a ground out to third and then a strikeout.
After an intentional walk loaded the bases, Shaver sprinted home and scored on a wild pitch. But Paquette got another strikeout to strand runs at second and third.
Stoughton responded with two runs in the bottom half, both with two outs. Junior Ryan Currier drew a two-out walk, stole second, and scored on an RBI single from junior Jacob Kaplan. Junior Michael Nazzaro, who drew a walk in the prior at-bat, came home on a double steal when Kaplan was able to avoid the tag long enough for him to race home.
The Black Knights’ lead didn’t last long. The Hawks were patient at the plate and drew three straight walks to begin the top of the second inning. Junior Luke Rosa, senior Nick Marcolini, and senior Justin Applebee all reached on balls, loading the bases with no outs.
Shaver brought in a run with an infield single but Paquette got another ground ball that resulted in a fielder’s choice with sophomore third baseman Brady Conlin firing home to get the lead runner.
Another fielder’s choice allowed a run to come in, but the Black Knights got the runner at third. Paquette got another grounder, this one to short, for the final out to limit the damage to just two runs and a 3-2 deficit.
“That’s been the story this week for us, just missed opportunities,” Dion said. “Our guys have battled, and we know what we’re going to get every time we play [Stoughton], we know it’s going to be a tough game. First time we had them at our place it was a competitive game and we came out on the right side of things. We come down here, another competitive game and we came out on the wrong side. All three games this week, three days in a row, we just haven’t taken advantage of opportunities we’ve had, especially early in the game.”
Stoughton couldn’t take advantage of James Genest’s leadoff double in the bottom of the second as Rosa, Milford’s starter, got back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning. Milford once again put a runner in scoring position in the top of the third when junior Nick Wemette doubled and moved to third on a two-out single from Marcolini, but Nazzaro was able to gun the latter down at second on a steal attempt to strand the runner at third.
After allowing nine batters in scoring position in the first three innings, Paquette limited the Hawks to three total base runners over the next three innings. A bunt single was erased by Nazzaro on a steal attempt, and a leadoff single by senior Danny Corsini was wasted when Paquette got three straight fly ball.
While Stoughton didn’t have a lot of chances, it did take advantage when the opportunity presented itself. Kaplan ripped an opposite field triple deep to right field tolled off the bottom of the fourth and scored on a sacrifice fly from Genest to make it 3-3.
In the sixth inning, Nazzaro and Kaplan had back-to-back doubles to deep left against Milford’s bullpen, the latter scoring the former. Paquette drew a one out walk and Kaplan stole third to put runners on the corners. Junior pinch runner Cam Dirosa stole second before a pop up to get two outs.
“His days in the leadoff spot are over,” Armour said of Kaplan, who went 3-for-3 with two RBI and two runs scored, and was a home run shy of the cycle. “We’ve been mixing up the order trying to get the offense going but leadoff didn’t work, and with his performance today, I think he cemented his spot in the middle of the order. He’s been huge, talk about a catalyst and getting us going. He had the leadoff triple and then him and [Nazzaro] had two bombs to really set the tone. We weren’t looking for walks today, we went to put a charge on the baseball so it was nice to put it together in the sixth.
Armour called on junior Noah Johnson, a recent call up from the JV team, to pinch hit in the nine spot. In his first varsity at-bat, Johnson roped the second pitch he saw into the gap in left center field for a two-out, two-run triple to give the Knights insurance runs and a 6-3 lead.
“Kevin Cronin does a great job with the JV squad, he’s been with us for a while and I have so much respect for him, our success over the years…he’s been getting the guys ready for this level,” Armour said. “[Johnson] had been his guy this year. We haven’t exactly been smashing the ball towards the bottom of the order. I thought it was just perfect timing and to see him come through was awesome.”
Scudo led off the top of the seventh with a triple to try and start a rally, but the rest of the inning summed up the week for the Hawks. Paquette got a strikeout and then senior Robbie Seaman and Currier made back-to-back web gems at shortstop and second, respectively, to strand the run and clinch the win.
Stoughton baseball (9-6 Hockomock, 11-6 overall) will try and clinch the division title outright when it travels to Sharon on Monday. Milford (6-8, 8-9) will try to snap a three-game skid when it hosts Canton at Fino Field on Tuesday.