WORCESTER, Mass. – It hasn’t always been pretty for Taunton this season, but it has almost always been effective. The Tigers use a lot of arms, are aggressive on offense, and find ways to pull out wins. On Tuesday afternoon at Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field on the campus of Holy Cross, Taunton showcased its will to win yet again.
Dawson Bryce drove in three runs, Ryan MacDougall and Colin Botelho combined for four scoreless innings of relief, and the Tigers pulled out an 8-4 victory over Catholic Memorial to reach the Div. 1 state title game for the second time in three seasons.
“I don’t think we have that true ace that some other teams that are this deep have,” admitted Taunton coach Blair Bourque, but what we do have is a lot of competitors and guys who compete on the mound, throw strikes, trust our defense, and they showed what they’re capable of tonight.”
He added, “I can’t say enough about the pitching staff, with the way they were swinging it we knew it was going to be a tough battle and they were up for the task.”
Taunton got off to a great start. Shawn Cali threw a perfect top of the first and the Tigers quickly got the bats going in the bottom half. Braden Sullivan lined a one-out single to get it started and MacDougall (2-for-3, two RBI) smashed a double to right to grab the lead. Bryce (3-for-4) reached on an infield hit and Allen Lewis singled to load the bases. Catcher Colby DeCouta would drive in his first run with a grounder to third.
CM responded in the second with clutch two-out hitting. Gabe Malaret led off with a single but Cali got a comebacker and a strikeout to be on the verge of getting out of the inning unscathed. After a walk, pinch hitter Brett Mulligan went the other way to score one and Conor Coulter followed suit to tie it at 2-2. Cali got his second strikeout to end the frame.
The Tigers showed off their two-out chops in the bottom of the second. CM starter Drew Delucia gave up a single to Evan Cali (2-for-3) but the leadoff man was caught trying to stretch the hit into a double. A strikeout followed and it looked like the Knights were going to have a quick inning.
Instead, Brayden Cali reached on an error and the Tigers would turn the mistake into three runs. Sullivan (2-for-4) reached on an infield single and MacDougall followed with an RBI hit. Bryce also drove in a run with a single to right. After Lewis walked to load the bases, DeCouta drew a walk to drive in his second run and put the Tigers up 5-2.
MacDougall took over on the mound to start the third and CM cut the lead to one. A pair of singles kicked off the inning and one run scored on an error, while the second came home on a double steal. MacDougall got a fly ball to right and a strikeout but a pair of walks put runners on every base. A grounder to second would end CM’s biggest threat of the day.
Following the fourth, MacDougall settled down and gave up only one infield single over two more clean innings before turning the ball over to Botelho for the sixth and seventh. It was an important stretch that allowed the game to settle down after the frenetic start.
Bourque said, “MacDougall has been our rock all year, offensively and defensively. He’s the Hock MVP for a reason. We trust him, he throws strikes, and he had a couple big RBI there. He’s a big boy and he puts us on his back.”
In the fifth, Taunton got a key insurance run again with two outs. Evan Cali turned on a pitch and lined a ball into the right field corner. He raced around on his way to third with a triple. The relay to third sailed and bounced into the CM dugout, allowing Cali to come home and double the advantage.
“We’re never out of it,” Bourque said his team’s penchant for rallying with two outs. “They’ve competed from an early age, they’re used to competing, and they’re blue collar kids who work really hard and I’m really proud of them.”
Taunton’s offense kept producing in the sixth. Brayden Cali reached on an error, stole second, and moved to third on a wild pitch. MacDougall was intentionally walked and Bryce made that decision a moot one by drilling a ball down the line in left, turning it into another triple and bringing in two more runs.
Botelho wouldn’t need the insurance. The senior struck out the side in the sixth and in the seventh, after allowing two runners in scoring position with no outs, he was able to settle down with a strikeout and line out. With two outs, he induced a grounder to MacDougall at first, sealing Taunton’s return to the title game.
“He was lights out today, especially in that sixth inning,” Bourque said of Botelho. “Came out and really shut them down, then we score a couple more runs to really gain the momentum. Obviously that allows a couple guys to get one without having a lot of pressure.”
Taunton (21-3) will face league rival Franklin, who beat Shrewsbury in Tuesday’s nightcap, in the final on Saturday at Lowell’s LeLacheur Park. The two teams split during the regular season, both winning on their home field, and will now get the chance to decide the season series at a neutral venue.
“Same thing we’ve done all year,” Bourque said when asked about how they would approach the final, regardless of who they matched up with. “There’s not many guys who’ve been in this spot before. We know it’s not going to be easy, we just have to go out and compete and leave it all out on the field like we’ve been doing.”
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