BROCKTON, Mass. -- Braintree badly wanted to repeat as Super 8 champions, but it didn't seem to be in the cards.
Throughout the first six innings of the tournament’s winner-take-all finale, the Wamps left nine men on base, as they seemed to be pressing against the red-hot Eagles of St. John's Prep. Junior outfielder Justin Files accounted for four of those stranded runners, but he stepped to the plate in the ninth inning with Erik MacDonald on first in a 2-2 ballgame and came up clutch with a single into right field.
MacDonald was able to use his speed to get all the way to third base, setting up a dramatic at-bat for sophomore Alex Kennedy. The Wamps three-hitter had been in big spots all season, so he didn’t panic.
Instead, the lefty took two pitches with assurance and then got a curveball he could handle, as he took the pitch up the middle for a walk-off single to give Braintree a 3-2 victory and a second consecutive MIAA Division 1A Super 8 Championship in front of an enthusiastic crowd at Campanelli Stadium.
“I’m kind of speechless,” said Braintree head coach Bill O’Connell. “I can’t say we felt like it was scripted, but it set up perfectly. MacDonald, Files and Kennedy are our best hitters and they came through.”
He continued, “The theme all week was poise and patience. We didn’t want to get into a slugfest with [St. John’s Prep]. We wanted to get into a one-run game and hope for the best. We’ve been [in the Super 8] before and we’ve played a lot of one run games in the Bay State Conference, so we’re battle tested and this is what we love.”
Braintree (19-6) might be the defending state champs, but the Wamps have been fighting for their playoff lives since they lost three of four games in late April. Yet with ace Scott Creedon back in the fold and a couple of younger positional players gelling alongside a handful of leaders left over from the 2015 championship team, they rattled off 13 consecutive wins to make the Super 8 and advance through the Winner’s Bracket.
After losing badly to St. John’s Prep by a final of 11-2 on Thursday night and falling behind 2-0 when Eagles seniors Jacob Yish and Mike Larovere each tagged Creedon for a solo homer, things looked dire for the Wamps once again.
Of course, with their backs against the wall, they displayed the heart of a champion.
Joe Vannelli (2 for 3, BB, RBI) led off the bottom of the seventh with a single and pinch runner Aiden Adams would eventually come around to score on a sacrifice fly off the bat of MacDonald (2 for 3, BB, R, RBI).
Kennedy (2 for 5, RBI) started the eighth with a leadoff single and this time it was Steve Whalen making things happen by stealing second as a pinch runner and coming around to score on a clutch double from Vannelli that tied the game.
Suddenly in position to set his team up for a win, Creedon (CG, 9 H, 2 BB, 7 Ks, 117 pitches) buckled down to get a huge strikeout before his infielders turned a six-four-three double play to end Prep’s potential rally in the top half of the ninth, setting the stage for the Wamps to walk off in dramatic fashion.
“Last year’s group was extremely talented and this year’s group is more of a scrappy, blue-collar team that fought to the end,” O’Connell asserted about the 2016 state champs. “There was a point where most people didn’t think we had a chance of making the [Super 8] Tournament, but we went on an incredible run.”
That’s Baseball: Many people say that the game of baseball is primarily about making adjustments, and sometimes those adjustments are just as much mental as they are mechanical.
Files might have stranded four runners, but he lined out hard to right field during his second attempt to drive in some runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Coming to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, he made sure to put that play behind him by maintaining the same approach.
“We always talk about forgetting the last at-bat, because that means nothing. If they catch a hard-hit ball that’s just baseball," Files said. "I felt like I let my team down earlier and I just wanted to come up big and give us a chance to win.”
For St. John’s Prep (20-6), a couple of bounces one way or the other could’ve allowed them to put the bow on a storybook run through the Loser’s Bracket after dropping their first game of the tournament to Braintree.
The Eagles revolving rotation of starting pitchers kept them in the driver’s seat throughout most of this contest, but the unseen force known as momentum seemed to overcome their relievers in the final innings.
“The momentum was going for us, but you could feel everything start to flip in that seventh inning,” said St. John’s Prep head coach Dan Letarte. “We tried to stop the momentum by switching pitchers but credit Braintree, they just came up with clutch hit after clutch hit. I’m proud of the kids who fought so hard just to get here. We had a great season and we’ll try to be back next year.”
Guts and Grit: Perhaps the biggest game of Braintree’s regular season occurred on the final Saturday of May when they hosted Newton North in a key conference tilt.
They trailed 2-0 late before coming back to win in the bottom of the seventh, as MacDonald, Files and Kennedy all played key roles in a late rally.
That experience helped a young hitter in Kennedy gain some confidence, which in turn led to his poise when he found himself in a similar situation on the Super 8 Final.
“Beating [Newton North] definitely showed us that we can battle against anyone and that we’re the same team we were last year,” Kennedy confirmed. “All that talk about us not making the Super 8 had us fired up and motivated us to get here."
Thanks to the efforts of Creedon -- who was named Super 8 MVP by ESPNBoston.com for the second consecutive year- the Wamps were in position to turn the tide.
“We’ve got one of the greatest high school baseball players of all time in Scott Creedon,” O’Connell asserted. “What else can you say aside from the fact that he’s 7-0 in the Super 8 in his career against some of the best talent that the state has to offer.”
Creedon punches McGinnis out on 3 pitches. Mid 8: Prep 2, Braintree 1 pic.twitter.com/u9i4Qt4DvF— Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7) June 20, 2016
Creedon finished this Super 8 Tournament with two wins over St. John’s Prep, one over Xaverian and 18 strikeouts. Perhaps most importantly, he set the tone for a team comprised of several new key contributors, as they dug down and found a way to steal a championship from one of the best programs in the region.
O’Connell said, “We’re playing against schools with guys from different towns and we’re just a gritty school from a small town with a group that knows how to win ball games."
Much like their regular season, the Wamps struggled early in the ultimate game of the 2016 Super 8 Tournament, but this gritty group certainly finished strong.