WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- For many teams that have already punched their playoffs tickets, the allure and excitement of playing a final regular season game isn't quite there. Players and coaches alike have already begun to cast their eyes towards the postseason. In fact, most coaches will say the only good thing about a season finale, besides winning of course, is that nobody gets injured.
While all of that remains true, one particular team took a different approach in its last game before the playoffs. Having clinched a berth in the Division 1 Western Mass. tournament weeks ago, No. 17 West Springfield had not been feeling it the last few days. Heading into Monday's contest against No. 25 Monument Mountain, the Terriers were teetering, having lost 2-of-its-last-3 games.
A loss to the Spartans would undoubtedly send this team into the postseason second guessing themselves and their ability. A win, on the other hand, could wipe the bad taste from their collective mouths. West Side took the latter, scoring solo runs in the fifth and sixth innings, respectively, to slip past the Spartans 4-3 at Bill Quigley Field.
"This was a huge win for us," said senior catcher Mark Couture, who was 2-for-2 at the plate with a pair of doubles. "We are fighting to see what seed we will get. If we loss today we knew Pittsfield is right behind us so we were determined to come out, get the win and get the highest seed we possibly could. This win was big in helping us earn a higher seeding. We all play with a lot of confidence. We want to make plays and that's how we get through. We play every inning like it is 0-0 which allows us to play loose."
On Monday, the Terriers (15-5) will find out just where they stand in the upcoming tournament when the seedings are announced. The same can be said for Monument Mountain (15-3). Based out of Great Barrington, the Spartans are expected to be a top seed in the Division 3 Western Mass. tourney.
Monument Mountain came into this game red hot, having won 7-of-its-last-8, including two against Mt. Greylock, another top-level club. Twice, during the early innings versus West Side, the Spartans took one-run leads only to see the Terriers come back to tie matters. In West Side's half of the fifth, it grabbed the lead for good. Anthony Costa opened with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice. Sophomore Conor Moriarty then doubled into the right-centerfield gap scoring Costa to give the Terriers a 3-2 lead.
In the following frame, West Side was back at it. Couture roped a double to right-center and took third on Zach Baker's SAC bunt. Senior Sam Doucette surprised everyone in the park by laying down a well-executed suicide squeeze bunt which scored Couture and put the Terriers' up by a pair.
"In our two losses earlier this week one of the reasons why we lost was we didn't have timely hitting," said first-year Terriers head coach Garret Kendziera, who has remarkably has turned this program around after West Side finished 3-17 a year ago. "Today we got some and I was pretty-happy with it. We try to put the ball in play a lot and play a lot of small ball. We do what we have to in order to get people around the bases."
With a chance to finish the game, winning pitcher Zak Duval (6 hits, 3 Ks) ran into difficulty in the top half of the seventh. With one out, the senior plunked Trevor McFarland. Duval next induced Branden Perry to line out to center but then issued an opposite field RBI single by Bobby Kinne to left which now made it a one-run contest. But Duval avoided addition trouble by getting Peter Oggiani to bounce into a game-ending fielder's choice with Moriarty, playing shortstop, stepping on second base to force out Kinne to end things.
Kinne, one of the most underrated players in the state, finished his day by going 3-for-4 at the plate. He will play for Vassar College next season.
The Spartans, playing less than 24 hours after out-lasting Mt. Greylock 13-10 on Sunday, took a 1-0 lead in the second. With two runners on, Henri Morrison brought one in with a ground out. The Terriers tied it in the bottom of the inning. Couture walked and Steve Fleury singled. Doucette followed with a SAC bunt. However, pitcher James Allentuck couldn't corral it allowing Doucette to reach and load the bases with none out. Allentuck, who allowed 9 hits, induced Brendan Stenwick to ground into a 6-4-3 double play that plated Couture with West Side's first run. Allentuck was able to avoid further trouble by getting Costa to ground out.
The Spartans wasted no time getting the lead back. In the third, McFarland doubled down the left field line and scored two batters later after Kinne smashed a hard grounder that caromed off diving second baseman Mike Fleury's glove.
McFarland never stopped running on the play and beat the throw home. But back came West Side in the bottom half of the frame. Jared Costa opened with a single, was sacrificed to second, and scored moments later on Mike Fleury's double to deadlock things yet again at 2-2. The Terriers had a chance to add to their total in the inning. With Fleury standing on second, Andre Marrero lofted a deep foul ball to right field that was caught by Morrison. Fleury tagged up and took off for third but Morrison threw a dart to third baseman Steve Cormier who applied the tag on the sliding Fleury to end the inning.
"We were right there with them but we just didn't execute the things we needed to do, Spartans 15-year head coach Tom Hankey said. "That was a good team we played but we made a couple of mistakes and you can't do that against a good team. In spite the loss, we are prepared for the tournament and ready to go. We are a team that isn't afraid to throw young kids into games and that's how we build it here. Our expectations here have always been very-high and all of us are very disappointed that we lost today. But now we move forward and see what happens in the tournament."