State Vocational Final: Whittier 3, Valley Tech 2

UPTON, Mass. -- If you were willing to look past the sideshow antics taking place during the middle of Wednesday’s Large School State Vocational Championship contest between Whittier Tech and Blackstone Valley Tech, the action which took place between the lines was entertaining too.

For those who witnessed it, most will come remembering two incidences which occurred during the fifth inning. The Wildcats, on the other hand, left here basking in the glow of their 3-2 victory to give them their first vocational title.

Tied 2-2 going into the seventh inning, Whittier Tech senior Devan Doucette ripped a one-out double to right field off of reliever Dan Avery. Avery recorded the second out but next walked Alex LoGiudice with Doucette stealing third. On a 3-2 pitch to Anthony Licciardello, Avery bounced a pitch that got past catcher Connor Byrnes to the backstop allowing Doucette to score the go-ahead run.

“I was just trying to sit back and got an outside pitch and just went with it," said Doucette, also picking up the win on the mound going six innings and allowing six hits while striking out five.

Andrew Wells relieved Doucette in the bottom of the seventh, retiring the Beavers in order.

“I wished things had been a little cleaner," said Wells, a senior bound for Worcester State University next year. “Emotions run high sometimes. We lost to that team in this game last year so we wanted some revenge this time around. This was a big win for us.

"All of the seniors stepped up and made sure everyone’s emotions were kept in check after what happened. The only way to win a baseball game is not by arguing. You have to hit the baseball, field the baseball and you’ve got to pitch. That's how you win."

In a nip-and-tuck affair from the outset, things finally reached a boil in BVT’s half of the fifth. The Beavers loaded the bases with none out. Avery laid down a nicely-executed squeeze bunt which scored pinch-runner Phil Burch to tie the game at 2-2.

Wildcats coach Joe Boland decided to walk Austin LaBastie intentionally to again load the bases in the hopes of that his defense could turn a double play. With Byrnes at the plate, Doucette induced him into hitting a comebacker. Doucette immediately fired a throw to his catcher (Licciardello). The senior stepped on the plate for the force out but in his attempts to throw out Byrnes heading to first base, he was slid into and knocked down by Cam Fiorentino, who was charging in from third base.

Umpires ruled it a clean play in spite the pleads of Boland. Play would resume, and with two out, Doucette struck out Ben Rieffarth. However, the ball got away from Licciardello but he alertly got it back and stepped on the plate just ahead of Chris Kowalik for the force out. But in the process, Kowalik was knocked down by Licciardello, which immediately brought both benches out from their respective dugouts. Again, nothing was called.

Beavers coach Anthony Leonelli, believing Licciardello intentionally pushed Kowalik to the ground, told umpires that he was now playing the game under protest. That, in turn, resulted in Boland and Leonelli to exchange a few heated words, which eventuually led to Boland’s ejection from the game.

Boland was forced to watch the remainder of the contest from a parking lot beyond right field. According to MIAA rules, because of his ejection, Boland must sit out Whittier's next game, which is Saturday. The fifth-seeded Wildcats (16-6) will host No. 12 Saugus in a first round Division 3 North contest.

“Bottom line is we got the win and we’ll take it," said Boland. “We’ve never won a state vocational title before so this is special. I’m very proud of these kids for coming back and getting the win. It was the best game I’ve never been in.”

Whittier Tech jumped ahead 1-0 in its half of the first inning. After Fiorentino (6-2/3 IP, 4 hits, 13 Ks) retired the first two batters, the senior offered up a single to Licciardello who proceeded to steal second. Wells followed by blooping a single to left plating Licciardello. BVT got the run back in the bottom of the frame. Singles by Anthony Beschi and Fiorentino set the stage for Avery, who belted an RBI single to center. Both pitchers would settle in after that despite the Beavers threatening throughout. But Doucette worked his magic recording the outs when he needed to. In all, the Beavers stranded nine runners.

“I just tried to stay focused,” Doucette said. “With all the chaos going on I just tried to keep my head in the game and I’m glad my closer came in to shut the door. I was behind my team during all of that and whatever they say I go with as well as supporting my coach.”

The Wildcats moved ahead 2-1 in the top of the fifth. With two out, Nathan Frongillo walked and managed to steal second and third. In Byrnes’ attempts to throw the speedy Frongillo out at third, the ball ended up sailing into left field allowing the senior to sprint home. Avery’s bunt in the bottom half of the inning knotted things before dramatics which ensued moments later.

“Give credit to Whittier, they made a couple more plays than we did," said Leonelli, his team dropping to 17-5 and are a No. 2 seed in the upcoming Central Mass. Division 2 tournament. “At the end of the day that is how you win a championship and they did a great job in doing that. It seemed like we left a million guys on base today but they made the key plays when they had to and that was it.

"After what happened earlier, I huddled the kids together and told them I’ll speak for the team and for them to just stay down, do your thing and stay out of trouble. I thought they did a great job staying composed. I truly have 22 great kids in my dugout."

Once cooler heads prevailed, the Wildcats were able to take advantage of some last-inning heroics and deliver the knockout blow.