WESTFIELD – The Westfield High School baseball team will need every one of its players to contribute if the two-time Western Mass champions Bombers are to advance to this weekend’s Division I state finals. But that is nothing new for these WhipperCitysnappers.
“Every player stepped up,” said Westfield pitcher Brent Houle, who earned unlikely consecutive victories in the Western Mass semis and championship game. “Each one is vital to this team.”
That was obvious as everyone from the celebrated grandson of New York Yankees pitcher Art Ditmar, Kyle Murphy, to the last batter in the order, Aris Larancuent, delivered on the game’s biggest stage.
Although Murphy’s booming triple to lead off the game was wasted, he came right back in the fourth with a run-scoring single to crack the goose eggs on the scoreboard Sunday in the title game at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to put his team out front.
Larancuent (2-for-2) did all the little things right in the number nine spot in the batting order, singling twice, walking, and laying down a perfect sac-bunt.
A player who stayed under the radar for much of the season was Houle, who emerged when ace Nate Barnes went down with a pitching injury during the regular season.
Houle pitched a complete game one-hitter in the WMass semis and got Westfield out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning of Sunday’s championship with three straight strikeouts. He retired nine consecutive batters over the final three innings to earn that victory too.
When asked how this year’s title compares to last season’s, Westfield coach Rich Discenza responded, “It’s not just ANOTHER title. This one was special. Somehow or another, these guys flipped the switch two weeks ago. That made all the difference.”
Ditmar was in the crowd to root on his grandson once again Sunday. Maybe a bit of that Yankee nostalgia has rubbed off a bit on Murphy and his teammates the last couple of years. Or maybe it is something else entirely.
Athletes have shown, through adversity, hard times, and tragedy, that, as one, they can often rise above all else to accomplish something. The Bombers came together at the right time – and played as one – to win a second consecutive championship.
On Tuesday against Central champ Nashoba, Westfield may need to call on Lady Luck. With the bullpen taxed, the Bombers are not armed with a stud. They will rather rely on a combination of pitchers from their staff – possibly to turning to junior right-hander Liam Flaherty, sophomore southpaw Kenneth McLean, senior righty Connor Sas, junior righty Tim Kelleher, Chris Riga, or even Rob Sullivan, who pitched in American Legion baseball last summer – to carry them one game further.
It is also possible the Bombers may still have an ace up their sleeves.
“If I were to hold the ball under the noses of Matt Irzyk and Brent Houle, I’m sure they would come sniffing like mad dogs too,” coach Discenza said. “But I have to be careful because I don’t want them to throw their arms out.”
Whoever pitches will be taxed with facing a solid Nashoba squad (20-3) which has outscored the competition 23-3 with wins over No. 8 Algonquin, fourth-seeded Wachusett, and No. 7 Leominster.
“We’re not the most talented team,” said Barnes, “but we have the most heart in the state. We get hits at the right times, and we play defense. Words can’t explain it.”
Fans will have the opportunity to see these events unfold for themselves in the state semifinal game Tuesday at Tivnan Field in Worcester. First pitch is 7 p.m.