Clark’s walk-off helps Algonquin top Grafton baseball in 11-inning playoff thriller

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Clark’s walk-off helps Algonquin top Grafton baseball in 11-inning playoff thriller
Grafton’s A.J. Parlante slides into the base safely as Algonquin’s Tighe Clark catches the throw. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

NORTHBOROUGH – Tighe Clark knew what was coming, and he knew what he had to do.

After 11 innings and approximately three hours of MIAA Division 2 baseball, the No. 8 Algonquin Titans and No. 25 Grafton Gators were knotted at four runs apiece in the win-or-go-home Round of 32 matchup. With the season hanging in the balance – and with runners on first and second – Clark stepped up to the plate, and on the first pitch, lined the ball into left field to give his team a walk-off, 5-4, victory.

“I knew what [the pitcher] was throwing, I knew what was coming. I knew there was no way that that wasn’t ending the game right there. I was so confident. I knew he was going to give me a fastball, I was ahead of it, and just put it over the infield,” Clark said after the game. “Then,” he continued, we went straight to the celebration… I got a little scared that everyone was going to tackle me, so I took off to the outfield.”

Clark’s walk-off helps Algonquin top Grafton baseball in 11-inning playoff thriller
Algonquin celebrates after tying the game. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

And what a celebration it was. After contact, Clark flipped his bat toward the dugout, sprinted toward first, and, as the winning run dove safely head-first into home plate, took off toward the outfield, where a mob of teammates followed him, nearly taking him to the ground. As Clark spoke to reporters after the game, the Algonquin team dumped a water cooler over his head – the celebration wouldn’t be ending any time soon.

“Words can’t describe it. I was absolutely elated,” Clark said.

While Clark’s RBI single put the Titans over the top, his game-winning hit was made possible by smaller – but no less important – plays throughout the 11th inning. Nick Klein started the inning by drawing a four-pitch walk, reaching second after Jackson Redfern’s sacrifice bunt. Grafton opted to intentionally walk Zach Meehl, giving Clark, the clean-up hitter, the opportunity to end the game.

Clark’s walk-off helps Algonquin top Grafton baseball in 11-inning playoff thriller
Owen Ellsworth catches the pop fly. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

“Getting the lead-off hitter on was huge. Getting Jackson Redfern, the senior leader who pitched a great game – I just had the confidence that he could bunt him over. We had our three [and] four hitters, our senior captains, Zach Meehl and Tighe Clark, I figured one of those guys would be able to come through with a clutch hit. One of them did, and that was Tighe,” first-year Algonquin Head Coach Ken MacDonald told the Community Advocate.

“When there’s a guy on first, no outs – I don’t mind laying down the sac bunt to help the team. Small things in baseball pay off big time,” said Redfern.

Clark’s hit marked the end of a back-and-forth, hard-fought game that saw important contributions from just about every player on both sides. Redfern, for one, pitched 5 ⅔ innings for the Titans, striking out six batters over his 99 pitches. Algonquin’s Quinn Salvi took the mound down the stretch, pitching 5 ⅓ crucial innings of relief to keep the Titans in the game. For the Gators, Chris Kiesiner had a strong outing, striking out seven batters over six innings of work. James Tindall picked up where Kiesiner left off, pitching 4 ⅓ innings of relief.

Clark’s walk-off helps Algonquin top Grafton baseball in 11-inning playoff thriller
The Grafton dugout cheers on teammates. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

Grafton pulled ahead early in the game, going up 1-0 after a first-inning error by the Algonquin shortstop. While the Titans trailed to the underdog Gators, an RBI single from Meehl and an RBI fielder’s choice from Owen Ellsworth put the team ahead 2-1 in the fourth inning. Yet, Grafton – with one-run singles from Kyle Brown and Charlie Law – would take the lead once again in the sixth, going ahead 3-2.

In the bottom half of the sixth inning, Algonquin tied the game on Brennan Rice’s RBI single. The matchup entered extra innings at 3-3.

“It was tough. The only way we came back was knowing that if this doesn’t go our way, the season is over. That’s it. We used everything we had left – you can’t leave anything in the tank. You just can’t give up,” Clark said about his team’s ability to come from behind.

But the Titans ran into serious trouble in the 10th inning. Grafton loaded the bases with one out, and while Salvi managed to keep the damage to a minimum, Law’s sacrifice fly put the Gators ahead 4-3. After Grafton quickly retired the first two Algonquin batters in the bottom half of the inning, the Titans needed a miracle. Down to their last out, Rice singled to keep the game alive. Next, Thomas Boudreau hit a soft grounder to the shortstop who, trying to quickly nab Boudreau at first to win the game, couldn’t cleanly field the ball. Rice scored on the play and tied the game in dramatic fashion.

“We’ve played a tough schedule all year, and I think everything we’ve done has prepared us for this playoff-type atmosphere. Those tough losses we had earlier in the year, we were right there, and today we had a bunch of guys that just refused to lose. We found a way to get the tying run, and then we went ahead and won it,” said MacDonald.

Clark’s walk-off helps Algonquin top Grafton baseball in 11-inning playoff thriller
Grafton’s Kyle Brown “gator chomps” toward the dugout after reaching second base. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

The chaos of the 10th inning allowed the events of the 11th, when Clark became the hero.

“It’s playoff baseball. It’s different. The energy has to be higher, the mentality has to be stronger. I think we stuck together really well, even when we were down. That got us that win today,” Redfern said.

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