Tied at four apiece in the bottom of the seventh of Wednesday's Div. 1 South semifinal with No. 12 Braintree, eighth-seeded Needham used a well-placed groundball from Alec Sharton, which plated Steven Donovan from third base, to walk-off with a 5-4 win in the Div. 1 South semifinals at Adams Field.
QUINCY — No this isn’t 2016.
No you aren’t having a flashback.
The Needham baseball team is heading back to the Division 1 South sectional title game, and the Rockets are following the same formula from two years ago – when they reached their first sectional final in program history – again this postseason.
Needham just happens to be adding some late-game heroics to this year’s recipe.
Tied at four apiece in the bottom of the seventh of Wednesday’s Div. 1 South semifinal with No. 12 Braintree, eighth-seeded Needham used a well-placed groundball from Alec Sharton, which plated Steven Donovan from third base, to walk-off with a 5-4 win at Adams Field.
Cue the pig pile.
FINAL: Needham 5, Braintree 4 as@needham_base walks off with a win as Alec Sharton drives in Steven Donovan from 3rd in the bottom of the 7th.@NHSRockets now faces rival Wellesley in the Division 1 South finalspic.twitter.com/mUXIl6cKjw— Tommy Cassell (@tommycassell44)June 14, 2018
“I’m just really happy, we play that team a lot,” said Sharton, bloodied from being the victim of a team-wide pig pile on the infield dirt. “They’re a really good team and I’m just really happy. I’m speechless, this is awesome, this is so great.
“All [I was] thinking about was just don’t strikeout and put something in play and give my guys a chance.”
And now, the Rockets have a chance to do something no team in Needham history has done. Win a sectional title.
Needham (15-8) will face rival Wellesley (18-5) in the Div. 1 South final at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Rockland.
“It means everything,” Needham’s Charlie Roberts said. “This is what you live for, this is your last year of playing competitive baseball so you have to soak it all in.”
There wasn’t much for Needham to soak in after three innings as the Rockets trailed Braintree 4-0.
But the Rockets started to chip away, first by scoring a run in the fourth. Then, an RBI triple from Alex Luscher drove in Donovan to make it a two-run game before a Sharton RBI groundout to shortstop (sound familiar?) drove in Luscher to make it 4-3 after five.
Trailing by one-run, Needham pulled starting pitcher and left-hander Tom Chmielewski with one out and Wamps on first and second in the top of the sixth inning, and put right-hander Charlie Roberts into pitch. A tapper past the reach of Roberts loaded the bases before the Needham senior captain got a swinging strikeout from Jack Collins and a groundout to second base to end the Braintree threat.
“We all have faith in each other,” Chmielewski said. “We’re all a staff here and I’m rooting for [Roberts] from left field. I may not have had my best day, I gave up a few runs but I had full confidence in him coming in and shutting the door, and he did.
“He’s an [absolute] pro.”
A leadoff triple from Chmielewski led to an RBI sacrifice fly by Danny DeMayo to tie it at four apiece in the bottom of the sixth.
A leadoff triple from Tom Chmielewski and an RBI sacrifice fly from Danny DeMayo ties it at 4-4 in bottom of 6th in Division 1 South semifinal with Braintree@NHSRockets@WickedLocalpic.twitter.com/KZuAALhCwb— Tommy Cassell (@tommycassell44)June 14, 2018
In the top half of the seventh, Roberts retired the side in order – punctuated by a strikeout to end that half of the inning, leading the way to Sharton's heroics.
The right-handed hitting senior came up with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom half of the seventh. Sharton grounded the ball past the dive of the Braintree third baseman and by the time the Wamps’ shortstop could corral the ball and throw home, Donovan had crossed the plate and Needham’s bench was well on its way to mobbing Sharton on the infield dirt.
“You just have to come in realizing if you locate it, no one is going to hit your fastball,” Roberts said. “So just come in and hit spots, get the job done and get hyped after.”
Same end to the top of the 7th...Roberts with a K!
Needham has reason to be hyped at this point, especially after the Rockets held a 4-7 record just past the midway point of the season with a playoff spot in jeopardy. Yet, the Rockets won eight of nine to close out the regular season – and three straight in the postseason – and now find themselves on the precipice of history.
“Ever since the Wellesley game and we were 4-7, it’s just been an unbelievable run,” Chmielewski said. “It just shows the character of the guys on the team to come from 4-0 down to stay with it against a really good team like Braintree and win this game.”
“After the 4-7 start we talked about how we knew we were a lot better than that and reeled off 10 of 11 [before Wednesday’s win] and it told the guys we can do this,” Needham coach Matt Howard said. “We have good pitching, we have good defense and when our hitting came alive I think the kids started to gain a ton of confidence.
“So it’s awesome for the community.”
In 2016, Needham used a similar script to get to the sectional final. Two years ago, the Rockets won 2-1 in their first-round game (same score in first-round this season), 3-2 in its quarterfinal matchup (allowed two runs this year in same round) and then came from behind to beat Bay State Conference foe Walpole (well, read above to see what happened this go-around against another BSC opponent).
And that magical run – which came up just short – two years ago, has been in the back of Needham’s mind.
“When we were [in the sectional final] two years ago, we never stopped talking about it and the feeling of being in playoffs is amazing,” Luscher said. “This group of guys, we were down four runs but we never got down on ourselves and we’re always in it, always battling.”
After battling back to beat Braintree, Needham needs one more win to accomplish something no other team has done in program history.
And they’ll get the chance to do it against their rival.
No, this certainly isn’t 2016. This is 2018 – and the show has just begun.
Tommy Cassell can be reached at 508-626-4405 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @tommycassell44.