BRAINTREE, Mass. -- The scouting report on talented Xaverian sophomore Austin DeCarr, clocked as fast as 91 miles per hour this spring, demands detail. So with the 6-foot-2 fireball of a reliever coming on in the seventh to preserve a lead in this Division 1 South final at Braintree High, and confusing the Franklin bats with his curve, head coach Dave Niro told his Panthers to sit and challenge the singular pitch that has begun the prose from scouts.
With a tie game in the bottom of the ninth, Sam Skidmore heeded the advice. With one out and no runners on in the bottom of the ninth, he sat until the sixth pitch, where he got his desired look -- a high, 3-2 two-seam fastball clocked at 87 miles per hour -- and cranked one of those shots that looked destined for the trees behind the left-centerfield fence as soon as it left the bat.
The Franklin dugout immediately emptied into a frenzy, Skidmore was mobbed and then pig-piled as he crossed home plate, and this most unheralded -- not to mention surprising -- run lives another day. The Panthers (16-8) left with a 6-5 win over the Hawks (15-10) to take the Division 1 South title and advance to Wednesday night's state semifinal against North champion Lincoln-Sudbury.
"These guys never give up," Niro said, as chants of "Skid the Kid!" echoed in the background. "When we first put this team together, we were saying, you know, 'I don't even think we're going to win 10 games this year'. But these guys never quit. They started out 2-3, but man, we won some games and put some things together."
Few, if any, could have seen this coming. The Panthers came into the tournament a No. 9 seed at 12-8, but having lost four of six (including a 5-2 decision to tomorrow night's opponent). And at that, they were considered maybe the fourth or fifth best team in their own league, behind fellow D1 South contenders North Attleborough and Mansfield, and D2 state title favorite Oliver Ames -- all three of which, by the way, making first-round exits this postseason.
Even less, perhaps, can pinpoint the "when" on this sudden jolt. But the consensus is clear on the "what" -- plate discipline.
The same team that plated 15 runs in the first three innings of June 8th's semifinal win over BC High was the same team that struggled to connect for three or four hits just a month earlier. This afternoon, the Panthers got nine hits off the Xaverian staff, and drew an additional six walks.
"Every day at practice, we work on situational hitting," Niro said. "That's what we did, we did a lot of hitting with these guys, and they never quit. They want to practice every day, they don't want to stop, just come in every day and hit, get a great run."
Said Franklin hitting coach Steve Lerner, "They're doing the things we've been trying to tell them lately. They've been keeping their shoulder in, they're going the opposite way if it's outside. They're just on a roll. It's awesome. It's fun."
Against the Hawks' defense, the Panthers were aggressive on the base paths, making the most of their appereances, highlighted by Reed Turgeon. The junior went 3 for 3 -- all for singles, and each time following up by stealing second base. The rally was also aided by Jon Skaza's two-run single in the fifth, followed by a walk dawn by Tim Garvey in the seventh that scored Tyler Buck to make it 5-5.
But at the crux of it all today was Skidmore, the No. 5 hitter, who was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts (both looking) before pelting out the 370-foot shot that won't be forgotten around Oak Street for quite some time.
"The second I hit it, I knew it was gone. It's a great feeling," Skidmore said of his shot. "It was unbelievable. Best feeling I've ever had."
This spring season of baseball has been the year of the unusual, and perhaps there was no better statement on the hill for Franklin than junior Bobby Chaiton. The 5-foot-10 righty worked the Xaverian bats with his sharp curve and unorthodox, Okajima-like delivery, a three-quarter arm slot that sometimes left him looking straight down at the ground when released.
In seven innings of work, he allowed five hits and four runs over seven innings, while his Xaverian counterpart Nick Ahearn allowed four runs and seven hits before giving way to DeCarr in the seventh. Senior Kevin Garry came on to relieve Chaiton in the eighth, just his fourth appearance of the season, and didn't allow a runner past second base.
"Against Walpole (in the quarterfinals), he did a heck of a job," Niro said of Garry. "We brought him in today, and he did another outstanding job for us. He's a great kid, and I'm so happy for him."
Xaverian head coach Gerry Lambert commended the Panther bats for the way they battled.
"Sometimes they put a swing on one. I mean, they're a good team, too," he said. "And they're on a roll right now, they've won a lot of games in a row. They had a couple of big hits with two outs early in the game, that kept this game close, and then the swat there at the end."
What's a championship celebration without a water dunk? We managed to catch Niro in the middle of the act, as his team ambushed him with a ceremonial water jug.
Here he is, pre-dunk: