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D1 Baseball State Final: West Springfield 2, Lincoln-Sudbury 1

Nate Weitzer/ESPN

WORCESTER, Mass. – While their regular season was from perfect, the West Springfield Terriers did learn some valuable lessons as they suffered several close losses.

They entered the MIAA Division 1 State Tournament with a 9-3 record in one-run games and proceeded to defeat Northampton, Pittsfield and Westfield by a combine margin of four runs on their way to the state title game.

In the biggest game of the year at Fitton Field in Worcester, the Terriers (19-6) used their experience in tight ball games to come back from a one-run deficit in the sixth inning, and to scratch out a run in the seventh for a 2-1 victory over Lincoln-Sudbury to become the 2016 D1 state champions.

“Good teams win one-run games,” said Terriers head coach Garrett Kendziera. “That’s how you know if they’re a good team or not. We practice those situations a lot and it paid off today.”

Kendziera referred to the Terriers unique strategy with the go-ahead run at third base and two outs in the top of the seventh. Starting pitcher Nick Dombkowski (CG, 4 H, 3 BB, ER, 8 Ks) singled to lead off the inning and moved over thanks to a walk and sacrifice bunt, but he could not come home when Jack LaBranche struck out.

With two outs on the board, Kendziera called for a daring gambit by allowing Dombkowski to attempt a straight steal of home if he saw an opportunity. The senior took off on a 2-2 pitch, but the ball was fouled off.

He took another running lead on the next pitch and sophomore Zach Culver slapped it back to Lincoln-Sudbury pitcher Ryan Cusick, who couldn’t field it cleanly, as he might have been partially distracted by Dombkowski sprinting home.

“We were trying anything at that point,” Dombkowski said about the risky base running tactic. “I looked at [Kendziera] and I thought we had to try something here because we’ll only got one shot at it. [Zach] Culver did a nice job with two strikes to put it in play and eventually good things happened for us.”

The Warriors (21-5) were up throughout most of the contest, as their dynamic duo of Chris Galland and Scott Holzwasser manufactured the first run of the game in the bottom of the third inning.

Galland used his blazing speed to beat out a throw from shortstop Connor Moriarty and stole second to get into scoring position. Then Holzwasser sat on a 2-0 fastball and drilled it up the middle for an RBI base knock to put the Warriors ahead.

Junior right-hander Justin Vandervelden (5+ IP, 3 H, BB, ER, 2 K) kept the Terriers off balanced, but he was lifted when Brady LeClair provided a pinch-hit single to lead off the sixth inning.

Pinch runner Jacob King put the pressure on the Warriors, as he advanced to second on a wild pitch before moving to third on a grounder to short. Then Moriarty came up and drilled a 3-2 pitch into deep center field to the game at one by allowing King to score easily.

Once they had tied the game, the Terriers seemed to seize all the momentum and Dombkowski carried them home by striking out the final four batters he faced.

Dombkowski, who spent an extra thirty seconds or so crouching behind the mound before dominating Lincoln-Sudbury’s hitters in the bottom of the seventh to seal a championship, said “I just want to attack and throw strikes. I’ve got a good defense behind me and I just want to do my job because I trust that they’ll do theirs. I just wanted to focus on every pitch and not jump ahead of myself.”

Clean, High-Level Game: There were no errors committed by either side in this closely contested State Final.

The Terriers received outstanding defensive efforts from several players, including left fielder Charlie Rounds, who was not batting but cracked the lineup for his ability in the outfield.

Right on cue, Rounds made two spectacular diving grabs over the first three innings of play to stop a couple of Lincoln-Sudbury rallies before they could start and allow his starting pitcher to settle in.

“Charlie Rounds made some great plays out in left field,” Kendziera confirmed. “I thought we were very solid defensively and you have to keep [the Warriors] off base, so [Dombkowski] did a great job of managing their speed and minimizing the damage.”

He continued by praising his ace when he added, “Nicky [Dombkowski] wants the ball in every big situation and that’s what you want. Big players make big plays in big games. He did a great job tonight and he’s done a great job for us all year.”

Regional Pride: The West Springfield fans came out in droves to support their beloved “West Side” and they were ravenous with delight when their team came back to pull ahead and win.

This marks the second state title in West Springfield’s history and first since 2005. It is also the first state championship for a Western Mass. team since Amherst defeated Xaverian in the 2010 State Final and it marks a huge improvement for the Terriers after they were bounced in the D1 West semifinals in each of the past couple seasons.

“It’s unreal,” Kendziera said about achieving the ultimate goal. “These kids worked tirelessly this year. They’ve been here every day ready to work without any complaints and they really deserve this.”

They paid their dues all season and certainly took their lumps, but thanks to their ability to produce in clutch moments, the West Springfield Terriers now stand atop the mountain as the top Division 1 program in the state.