BROCKTON, Mass. -- Last night, the Braintree Wamps were staring at the scoreboard at Campanelli Stadium in disbelief, as St. John’s Prep tagged them for 20 runs in an emphatic victory to force a winner-take-all finale to the Super 8 tournament.
Twenty-four hours later, the Wamps stood on the same field in disbelief, as they attempted to process the fact that they defeated the Eagles 7-2 to become Division 1A state champions.
Braintree ace Scott Creedon (CG, 11 H, 5 K’s, 2 ER) held Prep’s prolific offense in check throughout most of the game, but couldn’t have done it without his teammates, who played outstanding defense, and came up with several clutch hits to defeat the tournament’s number one seed.
“After last night’s shellacking, there was still no doubt in their minds,” said Braintree head coach Bill O’Connell. “To be honest, that loss might have helped us a bit. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves, but that loss brought us back to who we are. We’re a tough, gritty team that loves to be the underdog.”
It seemed as though the Eagles were just a hit or two away from putting up multiple runs in several innings, yet every time they knocked on the door with runners in scoring position, Braintree’s third baseman Connor Columbus, shortstop Anthony Venuti, second baseman Jeff Diauto, and first baseman Cal Berman made key defensive plays to get the Wamps out of trouble.
“We were focused right from the start,” said O’Connell. “We had the best infield-outfield practice of the year prior to the game. In my mind that was big, because it meant that they were ready to play tonight, and it showed on the field.”
While the Wamps squashed several rallies with fundamental defensive play, they swung the momentum further in their favor by scoring six runs in two-out situations.
“We talk about two-out rallies all the time. Whether there’s two outs, one out, or no outs, the inning is still alive. That’s the way we roll,” said O’Connell.
Senior catcher Colin Rios, who slugged a solo home run to put Braintree up 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning, added, “We never give up. We’re always going after the pitcher, no matter how many outs there are.”
Rios is one of 13 seniors on the Wamps’ roster, and most of those players remember the bitter taste of defeat when they lost to Newton North in the inaugural Super 8 Final last June.
“We’ve had a chip on our shoulder since February,” said Rios, referring to the end of last season. “All through winter workouts, it’s been the goal to get back here to the finals, and to go out on top is unbelievable.”
Truly, The Most Valuable Player: Scott Creedon is Braintree’s everyday shortstop, but every time the Wamps need someone to step up on the mound in a big game, he seems to come through.
With this complete game effort to win the Division 1A Championship, Creedon is 9-0 with two saves on the season.
“Scott [Creedon]’s the best pitcher in the state, and now there’s no doubt about that,” said O’Connell. “He’s accounted for more than half our wins this year, he’s one of the most competitive players I’ve coached, and he’s really what Braintree baseball is all about.”
Creedon didn’t just pitch the game of his life against a deadly lineup that scored 20 runs against him team the night before. The junior also scored the go-ahead run after doubling in the bottom of the fourth inning, and added some insurance with a two-out RBI single to drive home Cal Berman in the seventh.
“The whole team knew that we had to come out with fire tonight, and it’s an unreal moment going through this right now,” said Creedon.
He was quick to praise his teammates as well when he added, “I felt very comfortable with the defense behind me. Jeff Diauto and Anthony [Venuti] were great up the middle, Connor [Columbus] is just incredible at third base, and his play [in the top of the seventh] was definitely a turning point in the game because it got us out of a jam.”
After allowing a run in the top half of the sixth, Creedon allowed back-to-back singles to start the seventh inning. Braintree only led 3-2 at that point, and stood to lose the lead after Keith Leavitt moved the runners over to second and third with a grounder to the right side.
With Boston College commit Jacob Yish (2-4) at the plate, the Braintree dugout watched with nervous anticipation. Yish ripped a breaking ball towards the left field line on a 1-2 count, but Columbus snagged the line drive, and quickly tagged the bag to end the threat with an unassisted double play.
“That’s how baseball goes,” lamented St. John’s Prep head coach Dan Letarte. “It’s a game of momentum. They came up and scored after that in the next inning, and the difference between last night and tonight is we just couldn’t string hits together when it mattered most, while they were able to.”
He concluded, “You can be as high as you can be one night, and twenty-four hours later, you’re losing the biggest game of the year.”
Hometown Team: St. John’s Prep is a private school that draws talented prospects from all over the region, while Braintree is, of course, a public school in the South Shore.
Despite the differences between these two programs, they both played exciting, fundamentally sound baseball as they faced off three times in the double-elimination Super 8 tournament.
A couple of bounces either way could have decided this final contest, but the Braintree Wamps are certainly ecstatic that the Baseball Gods allowed them to redeem last year’s loss in the state championship game with a triumphant end to most of their high school careers.
“Last year we were on this field [at Campanelli Stadium] with our heads down, but we knew we had the talent to make it back,” said Columbus. “It’s just an amazing feeling to be on top thanks to an unbelievable performance by our pitcher.”
Many Eagles also played their final high school game on Thursday night, and all ten of those seniors hope to continue their careers at the collegiate level.
“They’re going to learn from this,” Letarte said about his graduating players, “You tip your hat to Braintree. They beat us two out of three games, and Creedon just got stronger as the game went along tonight.”
When asked about his team’s ability to band together during a campaign wrought with adversity due to a packed schedule, inclement weather, and capped by a demoralizing loss in the penultimate game of the season, an emotional Bill O’Connell said, “We’re just a bunch of guys from home. [Prep] is a great squad with guys from all over the place, and we’re just a town team. From start to finish these guys worked for this, and I’m just so proud of them."