Turners comes up short in title game
AMHERST — There were still six innings left to play, but the first inning ended up deciding the inaugural Western Massachusetts Division IV Baseball Championship Saturday at Earl Lorden Field.
Turners Falls High School loaded the bases with nobody out but couldn’t score. Hopkins Academy then put up three runs in the bottom half and went on to a 5-2 victory on the UMass diamond.
“We don’t score a ton of runs, so squandering that chance was tough,” Turners coach Jay Liimatainen said. “Then we fall behind, which made it that much more difficult. But I like the way we bounced back.”
The No. 3 Golden Hawks (13-9) won their first sectional title since 1988. They will return to UMass Tuesday at 4 p.m. for the state semifinals against Central Mass. champion Oxford High School.
The No. 5 Indians (12-12) saw their postseason run end after an extra-inning quarterfinal win at Granby High School and knocking off top-seeded Smith Academy in the semis.
“I’m really proud of these kids. They gutted it out all season,” Liimatainen said. “We lost 11 seniors from last year, so people figured it was a rebuilding year. But we had a lot of team unity.”
An error and consecutive walks loaded the bases for Turners in the first. Tyler Charboneau grounded hard to short, and Evan Delaney threw home for the force.
Golden Hawks senior starter Andrew Omer then struck out Zach Demars and induced Nick York to fly to left to thwart the threat.
Omer finished with a complete-game two-hitter, but the Indians failed to take advantage of his six walks.
John Jacques led off for Hopkins by doubling to right-center off Indians starter Charboneau. Delaney grounded the next pitch up the middle to bring Jacques around for a 1-0 lead.
With runners on first and second and one out, Omer lifted a fly ball to deep left that Emmett Turn went back on but dropped for a two-base error. One run scored on that play, and another crossed on Jake Kosakowski’s first of two successful safety squeeze bunts.
“Hopkins is a very good team, and they played some nice small ball,” Liimatainen said. “We made some errors we hadn’t made all tournament, but give them credit for taking advantage.”
Turners chipped away at its early three-run deficit with single runs in the second and third innings, as Turn and Charboneau each hit a sacrifice fly to pull within 3-2.
Jalen Sanders (run, stolen base) and Zach Wright had the only hits for Turners, both singles. Brody Markol (steal) scored the Indians’ other run.
Omer didn’t allow a hit over the final 3 2/ 3 innings. With Wright at second and two down in the fourth, the pitcher snared a comeback liner by Turn to likely prevent a run.
“We had some good swings (against Omer),” Liimatainen said. “I think our at-bats were better than in our previous games.”
In the seventh, Wright worked a leadoff walk, but Omer picked up his final two strikeouts to close it out.
After the rough first inning, Charboneau settled into his outing. He wound up throwing a four-hitter with four strikeouts and gave up only two earned runs.
“They were aggressive early, not as much later in the game,” Liimatainen said. “They’re a good hitting team, which we knew coming in. Tyler pitched a heck of a game.”
Hopkins tacked on insurance runs in both the third and sixth, both times again using key bunts by Kosakowski.
After reaching on a two-base error to lead off the third, Brett Morrison moved to third on a sacrifice by Omer, then came home on another safety squeeze by Kosakowski to put the Golden Hawks ahead 4-2.
Omer singled into left to start the sixth. Pinch-runner Cole Burdell swiped second, went to third on Kosakowski’s third straight sacrifice and tagged up to score on a fly ball to center by Nick Bernard.
It was the final high school game for three Turners seniors, Markol, Marcel Ortiz and Eric Ferguson.
“Those three guys will be tough to replace, but we bring back a lot of good ballplayers,” Liimatainen said. “There’s definitely a lot to build on after this season. Hopefully, we get back here next year with a better result.”