FRANKLIN, Mass. – The temperatures may have been hovering around 40 degrees and fans and players alike were bundled up as though it were mid-February rather than the middle of April, but Taunton starting pitcher Jack Moynihan was not bothered by the cold. He came out throwing heat and dominated from the opening pitch of Friday’s early season night game at Franklin.
Moynihan struck out the first five batters he faced and closed the game by striking out five Panthers over the last two innings. He finished with 15 strikeouts on the evening, allowed only three hits, and tossed a complete game shutout, as Taunton walked away with a 2-0 victory to remain unbeaten.
“Phenomenal,” said Taunton coach Blair Bourque of Moynihan’s night. “Getting ahead with his fastball first time around and then mixing it up but getting ahead. He did a great job.”
While striking out the side in the first, Moynihan threw strikes on 10-of-11 pitches. He also retired the first two batters in the second on punch outs before Stephen Luttazi became the first Panther to put the ball in play with a grounder to second. Luttazi injured himself coming out of the batter’s box and was forced to leave the game.
In the third inning, Moynihan struck out a pair before Franklin finally made solid contact, as nine-hole hitter Colby Fitzgibbons broke up the no-hitter with a double to left center. Moynihan came right back with a strikeout of Jack Nally to end the inning.
“We faced him last year and we knew we were in for a really tough test,” said Franklin coach Zach Brown of Moynihan. “He certainly was on, pounding it, and he really threw his breaking ball well for strikes.”
Franklin, which has been struggling at the plate this season with only 10 runs scored in five games, put together its lone rally in the fourth. Scott Elliott took the first pitch to center for a single and Alex Haba lined a twisting drive down the right field line that Griffin Tomaszycki went full stretch to get a glove to but couldn’t haul in. Elliott had to pause in case it was caught and ended up at third on the single.
Haba stole second to put two runners in scoring position and Brown turned to a suicide squeeze with catcher Jake Macchi at the plate. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the sophomore couldn’t get a bunt down and Elliott was easily tagged out by Taunton catcher Ben Joyce. Moynihan ended the threat with a strikeout and a comebacker.
Brown explained, “Today wasn’t going to be the day that we were going to roll out and put up crooked numbers or anything like that, so opportunities to execute and push a run across we knew was going to be big and whoever got that first one was going to be in a good position. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done.”
The Tigers were not able to turn Moynihan’s dominance into a lead thanks to a strong performance from Franklin starter Bryan Woelfel. Using a repertoire of off-speed pitches, he kept the Tigers off-balance and managed to bear down and work himself out of several early jams. He allowed no earned runs and struck out seven in six innings.
“He had that slider going and he was filthy,” said Bourque of Woelfel. “He mixed it up and had our hitters off-balance and he made us look silly sometimes. Just a great game.”
Jacob Crawford drew a walk in the first and advanced all the way to third after a single by Christian Simoes (3-for-4, reached base all four plate appearances) and a stolen base, but Woelfel induced a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of Tyler Medeiros to emerge unscathed. Taunton put two runners in scoring position in the third but again Woelfel escaped, this time with a strikeout.
Brown said, “I don’t necessarily know if Bryan had his best stuff today but one thing we don’t have to worry about is whether or not he’ll be ultra-competitive and he certainly was today. Very different styles, very different pitchers, but both competing hard and it was certainly a pitcher’s duel.”
A breakthrough finally came in the sixth inning. Simoes lined a double to center to leadoff the inning and, after Woelfel fell behind 3-0 in the count, Medeiros was intentionally walked. A wild pitch allowed both runners to move into scoring position, but Woelfel came back with a pair of strikeouts to get on the verge of another big escape.
Tomaszycki hit a slow, bouncing ball on the infield grass that couldn’t be fielded cleanly and allowed the game’s first run to come home. Woelfel limited the damage with another strikeout to end the threat.
The Tigers tacked on an important insurance run in the seventh against Franklin reliever Will Pacheco. With one out, leadoff hitter Trevor Pietrzyk dropped a perfect bunt down the third base line to get on base. After a strikeout and a stolen base, he stood on second with two down. Simoes came through in the clutch with his third hit of the night, driving an RBI-double to right center.
“Christian Simoes, a senior, came up big,” Bourque said. “He’s in that spot for a reason. That insurance run puts a lot less pressure on in the seventh. You get a runner on and your down just one that’s a lot different. Having that cushion allows us to take a breathe and go get the next guy.”
Two runs was more than enough for Moynihan. He struck out the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the seventh, his 14th and 15th of the night, and got a slow roller to third that looked like it might end the game, but instead the throw skipped away to bring the tying run to the plate. Moynihan got slow bouncing ball to Josh Lajoie at second to end the game.
“From start to finish, he pitched so well and I think getting ahead sets the table for his off-speed pitches and he was able to spot and hit corners,” said Bourque of his pitcher. “Hats off to him.”
He added, “Every team in the Hock is really good and Franklin is up there, so we’ll take them when we can get them.”