READING — The year 1978 marked the last time Woburn had achieved at least a share of a Middlesex League baseball title and also the last year that Reading finished with a regular-season record of below .500.
On Friday afternoon at Morton Field both of those streaks ended with a 11-5 victory by the Tanners over the Rockets, before a large contingent of fans for both schools.
"This is a big win for our team, it is never easy to come into Reading and beat them in their ballpark," said Woburn coach Joe Wells."We have leads here before and gone home on the bus on the losing end."
With the loss, Reading's streak of 26 straight tournament appearances was also halted. And with Belmont's 2-1 win over Lexington, the Tanners are ML Liberty co-champs with the Marauders (who have shared or owned the title for 3 straight years.)
The Tanner bats proved to be too much for a lean Rocket pitching staff that was hamstrung with the loss of their ace Matt McLaughlin the week prior.
Woburn (14-5, 12-4 ML) on the other hand was in strong position with League-MVP candidate Ryan Qualey rested and ready on the mound.
Reading drove Qualey's pitch count up and put enough base runners on to make the game interesting. But, Qualey (7-1) bore down when needed to limit the Reading run damage.
"When Ryan is on the mound he just raises the energy level for the whole team, he is a true leader." said Wells.
For Woburn this an accumulation of a re-building program under Wells that began with his hiring for the 2014 baseball season.
Despite losing some high profile players to private high schools over his recent tenure he still was able to assemble enough depth in the program over the past three years to build a championship team.
"I am happy for these seniors, it is a special group," said Wells. "They have been on board with the program for a long time and done everything we have asked them to do."
This year's roster includes 15 players who were on the varsity roster in 2017, including 12 seniors and three juniors.
Wells’ first tournament team was in 2017 but the Tanners suffered a disappointing finish at the end of 2018 that kept them out of the tournament.
In the first inning Woburn plated a run on a Jesse Stocker lead-off single and he advanced to second base on an outfield misplay.
He eventually scored on a Nick D'Antuono (2 doubles, 4 RBI) sacrifice fly.
In the second inning the Tanners benefitted from some wildness from Reading senior left-hander Sean Fischer to take a 4-0 lead.
The last two runs scoring on one of three walks in the inning and the last one when Kontaro Shimada was hit by a pitch.
Reading got one of those runs back in the second inning on a strange play with two outs. Devin Forbes’ fly ball was dropped in the outfield as the whole Woburn defense ran into the dugout thinking it was caught.
A heads-up Matt Sannella kept running from first base and trotted home to an uncovered home plate.
In the third inning Woburn got that run back on a Zack Willis lead-off double and he then scored on a Dane LeBert single.
In the fourth inning the Tanners pushed across what would eventually be the game-winning runs off of Demetre Doherty in for his second inning of relief (and 12th appearance of the season).
The doubles parade continued with D'Antuono and Matt Spolidoro going back-to-back two-baggers with one out.
D'Antuono scored on a throwing error and Julian Steed knocked in Spolidoro with a single to make it a 7-1 lead.
Qualey had five strikeouts and allowed just two hits and an unearned run through three innings. But in the fourth Reading had a brief moment of hope for a comeback.
Forbes singled in Dan Weston (single) with two outs and with Cole Tully also on base (single) Fischer walked to load them up.
Reading's lead-off hitter sophomore Steven Webb gave Qualey a battle in a long at-bat before grounding out to first base to end the threat.
Woburn busted it open in the fifth with three runs highlighted by a D'Antuono two-run double to deep right field to make the score 10-2.
Qualey came out for the fifth inning and lasted just three batters with his pitch count rising and two runners on base.
Lefthander Aidan Vining got out of the inning, despite some wildness, allowing just one run and with the help of Reading who had a runner caught stealing at third base.
The rest of the way was just counting the outs down to the 41 years in the making league baseball championship for the Tanners.
In the end Wells proved to be not only adept at coaching baseball but his social media skills proved to be strong as well.
He tweeted out a picture of his championship team minutes after the victory posing in front of the visiting dugout at Morton Field.
For Reading it was the end of a difficult season as it was eliminated from the MIAA tournament with a group of seniors who had known nothing but success in their long run of baseball starting as youths.
"The talent on this team did not translate on the field as well as we all expected," said Reading coach Dave Blanchard. "I feel bad for the six seniors, they are all talented and great role models."