TAUNTON, Mass. – When Taunton senior Luke Figueira stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning with the winning run at second base, it was the first at bat he had against King Philip reliever Jon Rolfe. But Figueira already knew what to expect, thanks to a little scouting he did two innings prior.
Figueira roped the second pitch he saw into right center field, bringing in senior Matt Machado for the winning run, giving the Tigers a 2-1 walk-off win over the Warriors and putting the teams in a tie for first place in the Kelley-Rex with three leagues to go.
Two innings prior with the Tigers trailing by a run, it was Figueira that knotted the game. His one out single, one of three hits in the game, brought in Machado to tie the game in the sixth and chased KP starter Jake Cavanagh. Figueira advanced to second, giving him a great view of Rolfe on the mound.
“When I was at second, I was seeing his curveball and I could see it right out of his hand so I knew that when I got up to hit, that I could see it,” Figueira said. “If I got a fastball, I was going to hit it and if it was a curve I was going to let it go. I got the fastball.”
Taunton scored both of its runs in nearly identical fashion. Machado led off the sixth with a single and stole second. A sacrifice bunt from senior Kevin Griffin moved him to third and Figueira drove him in with a hit through the left side of the infield.
In the eighth, Macahdo once again led off with a single. Griffin laid down a bunt and reached when Machado beat the throw to second. That set the stage for Figueira’s game-winning hit.
Danny Keogh earned the win, tossing a scoreless eighth inning for the Tigers.
“Today was a big one, for a lot of reasons,” Taunton head coach Jeff Sylvia said. “It was good to get the win. I’m proud of the team, they didn’t give up. For a while there, it was bleak there offensively. I thought Luke did a great job, he battled for seven innings. He didn’t have his best stuff and KP had a great approach offensively. When we scored the run, we loosened up a little bit and played better.
“Coach Weir has [KP] playing great baseball, he’s done a great job with that program. We knew going into today this game was big on many fronts. I’m proud of the team, they stepped up and got it done.”
It was a heavyweight battle between the Warriors and the Tigers and both teams’ aces delivered on the mound. Figueira threw seven innings with one earned run allowed and five strikeouts. Cavanagh allowed just the one earned run in 5.1 innings, striking out six and scattering four hits.
“He pitched his heart out,” Weir said of Cavanagh. “I knew what I was going to get out of him, he’s done it all year long. He’s going to give you his best every time and had just the one run allowed today. But today was about execution, period, end of sentence. You’ve got to execute in those situations, it’s a simple game.”
For Figueira, there was more than just the battle of supremacy in the division and the chance for revenge driving him. Figueira’s teammate, classmate and best friend Brendon Mazerolle, the team’s starting shortstop, had his season cut short due to a knee injury over the weekend.
“This was for Maz,” Figueira said. “This gives us a chance [in the division] now. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot on Monday, we didn’t play very well. Coming back today, it was a good bounce back win and it can give us a lot of momentum heading into the final games and hopefully another team can help us out.
“You can never give up when you’re down. They didn’t hit the ball hard, they just found the hole and there’s nothing you can do about that so you just have to keep battling.”
King Philip cashed in for its lone run against Figueira in the top of the fourth inning. Ryan Coulter had a two-out infield single to get things started and stole second base to get into scoring position. Cavanagh blooped a single into right field and Coulter came around to score.
The Warriors threatened in each of the last three innings but good defensive plays from Taunton – something they lacked in the first meeting between the two – kept KP off the board. Stephen Murray reached on a drop third strike and got to third on a pair of wild pitches. With one out, the Warriors attempted a squeeze play but there was no contact at the plate and Taunton catcher fired to sophomore shortstop Jacob Crawford, covering at third, for the out.
Ryan Guenette led off the seventh by getting hit by a pitch and took second on a sac bunt from Stephan MacMeans. Figueira then induced a ground ball to third where freshman Jack Moynihan fired to first for an out and Charles Hearrold III fired back to Crawford at third, catching the runner for a double play. In the final inning, Crawford took a toss from Griffin with his bare hand and completed a 4-6-3 double play.
“Because of an injury, we’re pretty young up the middle but those guys have been working hard in practice,” Sylvia said. “Jake Crawford, he got thrust into that position but when he plays short in practice, he looks like that on the field. And he’s got a sneaky strong arm. That double play he turned when he bare handed it, not many kids do that and that’s impressive.”
Machado finished 2-4 with a pair of runs scored, Griffin had two important bunts late and Figueira went 3-4 with a pair of RBI for Taunton.
“I don’t care how Matty gets on, he’s our fastest guy and the team can relax and we’re more aggressive when he gets on,” Sylvia said. “Getting on in front of Kevin, who does a lot great job with bat control and then Luke is in the right spot at the right time. We had the right scenario [twice], we don’t always get that but it worked out.
“They beat us the first time so today was a big one. It felt like we were focused all game. Even though it didn’t look good offensively early, they never gave up and I can’t be more proud as a coach.”
Taunton improves to 12-3 overall and 10-3 in league play. The Tigers final three league games will be against Sharon, Oliver Ames and Mansfield over the next five days. King Philip drops to 13-3 overall and 10-3 in the league. The Warriors will take on Sharon and Franklin in the coming five days before wrapping up league play against Stoughton next Saturday.
Ryan Lanigan can be contacted at RyanLanigan@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @R_Lanigan.