BRAINTREE, Mass. -- Steven Lee said wasn't scoreboard-watching like some of his Braintree High teammates Wednesday afternoon, as the Wamps stayed loose in preparation for the first of two twilight battles with No. 4 Walpole in three days.
But when Wamps head coach Bill O'Connell came by the home dugout just moments before they took the field with the good news -- Newton North had just lost a thriller with Norwood, opening the doors for a potential fourth straight title in the Bay State Conference's Carey division -- the senior shortstop and captain noticed the mood snap in an instant.
"We buckled down. We realized this is it," he recalled.
Some two and a half hours later, amidst moderate levels of fog and mist at Braintree High, the Stonehill-bound Lee finished the second leg of a double play to finally finish off rival No. 4 Walpole, 11-10, in a wild see-saw battle that saw four lead changes, three ties and a combined 20 hits.
With the win, Norwood clinched the Bay State Conference's Herget division outright, while Braintree has clinched at least a share for the fourth straight year after trailing the heavy bats of North for most of the spring.
And with it, relief.
"I can't remember the last time I beat Walpole here," Lee said. "But it's not even that. Newton North losing earlier today, four years in a row [now] winning the league title, that was a huge goal for us to do it again. It's exciting."
Said Wamps (14-3) head coach Bill O'Connell, "We had a good feeling Norwood was going to upset them, and luckily our wish came true. I told the boys before the game, 'We know what's at stake'. This is our fourth year in a row, five of our last six, and we're pretty proud of that."
Lee gave the Wamps the initial lead in the bottom of the first, ripping an RBI triple to right field, then he came home in the next at bat on a sacrifice fly from Matt Bickford for a 2-0 lead.
The Rebels (16-3) answered immediately in the next stanza, tying it up with RBI singles from Bob Rabaioli and Connor Moriarty, but Braintree re-gained the lead in the third after Alex Alexander reached first on a throwing error, allowing Nick Susi to score.
An inning later, Adam Chin blasted a 2-2 pitch over centerfield, for a two-run shot that made it 5-2, only to watch Walpole take their first and only lead of the evening.
The Rebels plated four runs in the sixth to take a 7-5 lead, starting with a Tom Farrow single to right, then a Bobby Ivatts fielder's choice that tied it at 5-5. Boston College commit Johnny Adams then reached first on an error, allowing Moriarty to score, followed by a Cam Hanley RBI single to right.
In the bottom half of the inning, Braintree erupted for six runs to keep the lead for good. Alexander tied it at 7-7 when he drew a walk with the bases loaded, then pinch-hitter Connor Leslie cleared the bases with a three-run double to left-center, getting thrown out at third.
After Walpole plated two more runs in the top of the eighth, reliever Brendan Donovan did his part by retiring the Wamps' side 1-2-3 in the bottom half, ringing them all up on strikes. But Braintree held on late to preserve the win for reliever Scott Creedon thanks to one of the most impressive defensive plays of the night.
With one out, a runner on first and the go-ahead run at the plate, Ivatts cracked a laser to sophomore Connor Columbus at the hot corner. The young third baseman snagged the ball and cleanly delivered to second, where Lee fired to first for the 5-4-3 game-endning double play.
"That was just spectacular," O'Connell said. "Great execution. Just shows you we've got some mental toughness, and that's a good thing going into the [state tournament]."