As the final out of the Division 1 state championship game bounced to Taunton sophomore shortstop Ty Cali and the Tigers erupted in celebration, there was a sense of disbelief to what the program accomplished.
Family members rushed onto the field under the LeLacheur Park lights to congratulate their players and the student body waited to celebrate with their classmates. Players and coaches were speechless.
That was until junior Nick Notarangelo, standing behind the banner that read ‘MIAA Championship,’ looked to his teammates while they were posing for photos and said, “Do you know that we are state champions?”
Nobody believed it. For the first time in program history, the Tigers were bringing home a state title.
“At the beginning of the year we talked about it in the weight room how nice it would be [to win states], but we also realized how difficult it would be to get better over the season,” Taunton senior Jack Moynihan said. “No matter how we start the season or end the season, we just had to keep fighting.”
There was a point in April — long before the idea of a state championship dream even was able to be conceived — that the Tigers stood on the cusp of two possibilities: a disappointing conclusion to another campaign, or a turnaround that would put the players and coaches into the program’s history books.
Taunton was 4-4 following a 1-0 loss to Franklin, and was searching for answers. Ten wins is enough for a tournament berth, but the Tigers didn’t just want to make the playoffs. They wanted to prove that they belonged.
Over the course of the next two months, Taunton found their identity.
The bats for the Tigers finally emerged thanks to Notarangelo in the leadoff spot, some well-executed small ball, and timely pitching from seniors Moynihan and Josh Lajoie, and junior Logan Lawrence. Taunton went 17-3 in its next 20 games after that loss to Franklin, with its only losses coming against Super 8 participants Mansfield (twice) and Franklin again.
The Tigers snapped off an improbable 11 wins in a row en route to Saturday night’s title-clinching victory over Shrewsbury.
“To be honest with you, we have started off pretty good and then this season we had a lot of adversity early,” said Taunton coach Blair Bourque, a Taunton graduate.
“This is a step in the right direction, this is a huge stepping stone for the school. [Franklin and Mansfield] are the teams we want to compete with and this is something I think that will move us in that direction.”
The win over Shrewsbury showcased everything Taunton embodied this year; Pitching, timely hitting and small ball.
Lajoie and Lawrence combined to stymie the Shrewsbury bats, and after being shut down for three innings by the Colonials’ 6-foot-8 junior John West, the hitting came alive. An RBI triple by Lawrence followed a one-out walk, and senior Evan Melo came in to pinch run and score on junior Jared Roderick’s safety squeeze.
After Shrewsbury tied the game at three in the fifth, the Tigers answered in the sixth and took the lead on another squeeze play, executed by Melo who, dropped the bunt down the first base line.
Sophomore Colby Lariviere added an insurance run in the seventh with a sacrifice fly to left, and Lawrence pitched a perfect bottom half of the inning to close the game.
Pitching, timely hitting and small ball.
This is everything Taunton baseball was in 2019 — a season that will not be forgotten by the program.
“It is definitely a dream come true,” Lajoie said. “We dream of this at the beginning and you just go through the season with your guys and see things falling together. It is unbelievable. I am speechless.”
Karl Capen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.