D3 South Baseball: Middleborough 6, Abington 1

BRAINTREE, Mass. -- As the Middleborough High baseball team left Rockland Stadium last Thursday night, their 4-2 Division 3 South semifinal win over Medfield in stone, Sachems coach Bill Lawrence tapped the 'JB' initials that sit on the left breast of sophomore outfielder Cody Braga's jersey.

He didn't have to say anything. The initials on that shirt, and every other players' shirt, were commensurate enough on their own.

This afternoon in the sectional final at Braintree High, Braga throttled the Sachems from the eight spot in the lineup, plating half of the runs in their 6-1 defeat of Abington, and the young outfielder was posed the question of what it meant to do that with regard to those initials, and everything came to a screeching halt.

"It means a lot...I'm kinda speechless," he said softly. And then nothing. His eyes welled up. The words he struggled to find were choked down somewhere in his throat.

The initials stand for Cody's grandfather, Jim Braga, the 61-year-old retired teacher from Middleborough High who was tragically killed in a car crash last March, and for whom this season has been dedicated to. He was a popular fixture in town, coaching the high school's soccer team and starting a local CYO basketball league, and was often spotted at Sachems baseball games.

"He understood [Thursday night], and it was the same thing today," Lawrence said. "There's 10 players out there helping us out. They're playing with emotion, all of them.

"He's always at our games, and this is his grandson...He's with us right now."

Younger terrific on mound: As much as Braga's performance carried the day, so too did the performance of senior lefty Cody Younger, who picked up the complete-game win with five strikeouts, four hits allowed and one walk, on 99 pitches.

Younger surrendered a run in the bottom of the first inning, a Tyler Perakslis sacrifice fly to centerfield. But after Braga answered right back in the top of the second with a two-run double, Younger clamped down and silenced the Green Wave bats for most of the rest of the day.

Spotting his fastball and changeup around the plate, and finishing off at bats with a hammer curve that showed plenty of late life. When he pitched to contact, he left batters jammed -- 13 of the Green Waves' 26 at bats resulted in flyouts.

"This time last year, he struggled a bit," Lawrence said of Younger, who is headed to Bridgton Academy (Maine) next year for a post-graduate season. "He made some mistakes, but he learned from those mistakes he made last year, and he's able to go strong this year. Just dominant when he wants to be."

Said Younger, "I knew I had it. I felt really good in the bullpen, I felt really good coming out there. My curve was breaking, and everything came together. The five runs definitely helped, and our team has been playing strong defense all year, making plays, gave me no problem out there."

With the baseballs the MIAA uses in the tournament -- a brand with tighter, lower seams -- came an adjustment period with grip. Once he adjusted his grip on his curve, the ball found its life again.

"You've just got to make sure you get on the seams a little bit more, and really snap it down," he said. "It's not going to give you a big break like the ones with the high seams, as easily."

Defense delivers: Of the remaining teams left, the Sachems have the stingiest runs against, allowing just three runs in four games in the MIAA Division 3 South district.

In their first two games of the tournament, they pitched shutouts against Case (5-0) and Ashland (3-0), before posting a 4-2 win over Medfield in Thursday's semifinals.

"They've been working hard. Some of them are young out there, and this is their first time in a big ball game like this," Lawrence said. "But they played very great defense.