Auburn uprising quelled.
WORCESTER - All season long, Auburn High demonstrated resilience, battling back for a number of come-from-behind and late-inning wins. So when the Rockets got their first two batters on base in the bottom of the seventh of a one-run game with South Hadley, coach Eric Swedberg expected his team to score at least the tying run.
This time, however, it was not to be. South Hadley pitcher Joe Ciolek made a great play on a sacrifice bunt attempt before striking out Tyler Desjardins and getting Zach Clifford to ground out to end Auburn's season as the Tigers held on for a 6-5 victory and a trip to Saturday's Division 2 state final.
The Rockets (19-5) got a leadoff single in the seventh from senior Connor Fuller and caught a break when no one covered first on John Kewley's sacrifice bunt, putting runners at first and second.
Nick Scanlon tried to bunt the runners over, but Ciolek grabbed the ball just to the first-base side of the mound, and fired to third to force Fuller. Ciolek then retired Desjardins - who was 3 for 3 with two doubles, two runs and an RBI prior to that - and Clifford to end it.
"I thought for sure we'd score in the seventh, even before the first two runners reached base," Swedberg said. "This team has battled all year, and we did that again. We came back from 4-0 down to take the lead, and we had the runners in position in the seventh. These kids showed a lot of character all season."
The Rockets fell behind early when the Tigers scored four runs on five hits in the fourth inning for a 4-0 lead.
Auburn answered with two runs in the bottom of the fourth - courtesy of a Desjardins double, a throwing error and a clutch, two-out single by Mykal Diaz - and three more runs in the fifth. Fuller led off with a double, Kewley singled and, after an out, Desjardins doubled and Clifford singled to give the Rockets a 5-4 lead.
"I feel bad for our three seniors (Fuller, Scanlon, Diaz) because they wanted this bad and they won't get another chance next year," Swedberg said. "But we aren't here without them this year, and we probably wouldn't have been in a position to win this game if it was not for them. They had key hits to get us back in this game."
Tyler LaMonda, who gave up two runs and four hits in three innings of relief, took the loss. Mike Vaitkiunas started for the Rockets, throwing three no-hit innings before faltering in the fourth and allowing all four runs.
Ciolek threw 2-2/3 innings of scoreless relief to get the win. Eric Pouliot started.
Like Auburn, the Tigers (11-13) showed plenty of resilience, scoring single runs in the sixth and seventh innings to turn a 5-4 deficit into a 6-5 lead. Pouliot had the key hit, singling to right-center on a full-count fastball to score Mike Croke.
The Tigers have won four in a row after ending the regular season with a 7-13 record. Interestingly, they were the second seed in the Western Mass. tournament, which uses the Walker power system to seed teams.
CUTLINE: Auburn second baseman John Kewley, left, tags out South Hadley's Nate Flachs in a rundown between first and second, with first baseman Mykal Diaz at right.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/JIM COLLINS