<
>

D3 State Final: St. Mary's 3, Mt. Greylock 0

Brendan C. Hall/ESPN

WORCESTER, Mass. -- Pitching on the very same field where his older brother earned Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors this past season, Brendan O’Neil proved to be the most valuable player in the Division 3 State Final.

With his older brother Cameron -- the starting second baseman for Holy Cross -- in attendance at Fitton Field on Saturday, Brendan O’Neil made his family, and the entire Lynn community proud by pitching a complete-game, three-hit shutout to defeat Mount Greylock 3-0 and bring St. Mary’s their first state title since 1988.

“It all started with Brendan [O’Neil] on the mound,” said Spartans head coach Derek Dana. “He was a leader today. He’s pitched in big games for us all year, and this was the best of the best.”

O’Neil (CG, 3 H, 2 BB, 9 K’s, W) shut down a Mount Greylock offense that produced 39 runs over four games, as the Mounties won the Western Mass. title and defeated Central Mass. champs Auburn (8-2) to advance to the state final.

The Lynn native ran into trouble in each of the first three innings. Yet he struck out Mounties cleanup hitter Jake Benzinger with a runner on third in the first, struck out two hitters with runners in scoring position and one out to pull a Houdini in the top of the second, and elicited back-to-back groundouts to end a threat in the third inning.

“[O’Neil] took control, and came up with some extra juice in big moments. The guys played great behind him, but that was just an outstanding performance in a state final game,” said Dana.

The Spartans senior pitcher would go on to retire 12 of the last 13 batters he faced over the game’s final four innings, but his contributions didn’t stop there.

After St. Mary’s shortstop Antonio Felix singled and stole second in the bottom half of the fourth, O’Neil (2-for-3, 2 RBI, R) came through with a base hit up the middle to plate the game’s first run. Two innings later, he added some insurance with an RBI double down the left field line, and scored the Spartans third run thanks to some heads-up base running.

O’Neil said, “We heard that [Mount Greylock] had a great offense, but we hadn’t played them or any of their opponents. After pitching through those jams early I got some confidence, and once I got into a groove, that was it. Then we knew if we could just put a few runs across, we’d have a good chance to win.”

Dana wasn’t necessarily counting on his starting pitcher doing that much damage out of the sixth spot in the batting order, and that only spoke further to the coach about the all-around effort of his senior.

“Whatever [O’Neil] gives us with the bat is really a bonus, and he came up for huge for us today,” said Dana. “I couldn’t be more proud of him, because he really put the work in, and just came out and dominated today against a very good team.”

Two As Player, One As Coach: Dana graduated from St. Mary’s in 1988, and was a member of the last Spartans squad to win a state championship.

“I enjoyed mine, but this one right here is their championship,” said Dana. “Seeing how the team progressed from where they were at the beginning of the season to where they are right now, it’s a different feeling, but it’s a great one.”

He continued, “It wasn’t always pretty. We came a long way from starting out 5-4. Kids re-directed themselves, started focusing on the little things, and they just started rolling. It’s a cliché, but this group in particular needed to learn how to stay together. Early in the year we played a couple of one run games, and they learned that the hard way. To see them beat some really good teams to get to this point is just outstanding.”

An Incredible Run: St. Mary’s finished the year with a flurry of close finishes, while Mount Greylock dominated the competition out West, only to fall flat offensively in the state title game.

Still, both teams have plenty to be proud of after respectively going through one of the best seasons in program history.

Mounties head coach Steve Messina said, “We won Western Mass for the first time since 2009, and we beat the Central Champs [Auburn] to advance to the state final for the first time ever. These kids have come a long way, and it was a very successful season. Everyone but one team ends up losing their final game, and it’s a tough thing for the kids to go through emotionally, but it was a great run.”

None of the Spartans said they expected to be in this position in March or April, and perhaps that makes the championship that much sweeter.

“At the beginning of the year I didn’t really know if we were capable of this, but it’s an awesome feeling, and it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said O’Neill.

With a performance like this in a high profile game, O’Neill has also etched his name into high school sports folklore, and that fact may not sink in for quite some time.