CHICOPEE, Mass. --- Talk about a flair for the dramatic.
Reminiscent of a knock-down, drag-out heavyweight match, Algonquin scored the technical knockout on Westfield, 4-3, to advance to the Division I state championship Saturday against Eastern Mass. Champion Xaverian.
In a game that saw two ties and a ninth-inning out at third base, it's safe to say the Szot Park crowd got its fair share of the dramatic.
Trailing 4-3 in the ninth inning, Westfield appeared to have runners at the corners with only one out following Conner Laraway's infield single. But after Laraway was ruled safe at first base, pinch-runner Jake Toomey was caught rounding third base, and as he attempted to get back to the bag, was nailed by a strong throw by first baseman Christian Miller and prompt tag applied by pitcher Luke Serra.
The Bombers would get another runner in scoring position but were unable to capitalize as Kyle Murphy's grounder up the middle was scooped by Algonquin shortstop Jim Temte for the final out.
"The kids are playing well," said Algonquin head coach Neil Burke, whose Tomahawks, just the No. 10 seed in the Central Mass. bracket, improved to 16-9 ahead of Saturday's state final. "We're getting breaks and making some of our own.
"A win like this shows the type of kids we have," Burke continued. "We're resilient and confident."
Algonquin had the opportunity to show its resiliency on multiple occasions Thursday, weathering three Westfield surges.
The Central Mass. champs got the scoring started in the top of the fourth, plating a pair. After singles by John Friday and Vik Kozica, and a wild pitch from Westfield ace Lee Albertson, Algonquin was threatening with two runners in scoring position. A sacrifice by Miller and a Tim Benson single saw the Tomahawks take an early 2-0 lead.
Westfield, however, would not be outdone. After a near rally in the bottom of the fifth inning, Westfield got even in their half of the sixth inning, plating two runs on a pair of hits. With one out, Adam Mayhew reached base after a Zach Gray pitch grazed his jersey. Anthony Nomakeo followed with a rope double hammered down the left field line. Chugging from first base, Mayhew missed coach Gary Discenza's stop sign at third base but slid across home plate safely when the relay throw from Temte sailed over the catcher's head.
Westfield shortstop Aris Laurencuent evened things up in the next at bat with a seeing-eye single up the middle that somehow found its way underneath Temte's outstretched glove.
In the top of the seventh, Algonquin got one back and took a one-run lead. Chris Strobel took a two-out fastball to the gap in right centerfield for a single. Pinch-running for Strobel, Mike Stamos stole second and scored on Mike Baker's pinch-hit single, putting the Tomahawks up 3-2 in the seventh.
Still, Westfield again got even in the bottom of the eighth inning. Mayhew reached with a leadoff single and moved to second on Nomakeo's sacrifice bunt. Ethan Atkocaitis hammered a single to the right-centerfield gap, sending Mayhew home with ease.
And finally, in the top of the ninth, Algonquin again took the lead. But this time, it was for good.
Benson reached to lead off when he was hit by a pitch. He was moved to third behind a pair of sacrifices, ultimately scoring on Malik Daley's sacrifice liner to dead center. Laraway made the diving catch on the sinking liner but his throw couldn't beat Benson hustling from third.
"I knew he would come after me," said Daley. "I just wanted to hit it hard somewhere. We've just been on a roll. Our pitching and defense has been unbelievable."
Algonquin starter Zach Gray tossed seven complete, scattering five hits, walking two and striking out four. He allowed just two runs.
Maneuvers: Substitutions paid off handsomely for Burke in the crucial top of the seventh.
After Strobel reached base with a single, Burke placed Stamos on first base as a pinch runner and inserted Baker to hit for third baseman Zach Teplansky.
The move couldn't have turned out any better than the stolen base and go-ahead single that followed.
"We knew that in a game like this, we had to make something happen," Burke said. "We were able to use our speed and knew we needed to steal a base."
Baker has thrived in his role this season as a pinch-hitter.
Everyday Starter: Albertson tossed a complete-game two-hitter Saturday in the Bombers' Western Mass. Sectional. Blame the rain if you're Algonquin.
He was to be out of commission if the game had been played Tuesday in its regularly-scheduled slot. With two extra days, though, Albertson was ready to go.
"The rain certainly helped," Discenza said. "We knew we had to get to the finals in order to win it and we thought Lee was our best chance to do it."
Albertson finished his second straight complete-game effort, scattering six hits. At one point, the senior retired nine straight to give Westfield a chance to come back.