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Falmouth junior pitcher Reece Armitage throws to Yarmouth senior Conor O’Donnell to start Monday’s battle. Armitage allowed just two hits and struck out eight as the Yachtsmen held on for a 1-0 win to improve to 14-0.
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Gee singled to center, C. Aube scored.
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F- C. Aube, Gee
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Left on base:
Klenda and Snyder; Reece Armitage and Ga. Aube
Klenda (L, 2-2) 6 IP 6 H 1 R 1 ER 1 BB 4 K
Armitage (W, 6-0) 7 IP 2 H 0 R 2 BB 8 K 1 WP
FALMOUTH—Junior ace Reece Armitage wasn’t quite perfect Monday afternoon, but as a result of his dominance, Falmouth’s baseball team still is.
Hosting Yarmouth at John R. Croker Memorial Field in a late-season clash of rivals, Armitage escaped a scare in the top of the first inning, then pretty much dominated the Clippers the rest of the way.
The high-powered Yachtsmen offense was largely held in check by Yarmouth senior starter Luke Klenda, but slugging senior centerfielder Connor Aube led off the bottom of the first with a ringing double to the base of the centerfield wall, then came around to score on an RBI single from senior leftfielder Tyler Gee.
That was it for offense, but what a day it was for defense, as both teams made jawdropping plays.
The Clippers had a chance to extend the game in the seventh, when senior third baseman Joe DeFusco singled with two outs, but Klenda’s bid for a game-tying extra base hit fell inches foul and Armitage ended the game in style, with his eighth strikeout, and Falmouth prevailed, 1-0, in a tidy 81 minutes.
The Yachtsmen improved to 14-0, their best start in two decades, inched closer to the top seed for the upcoming playoffs and dropped Yarmouth to 7-5-1 in the process.
“The kids are humble and we just take it game by game, inning by inning,” Falmouth coach Kevin Winship said. “It’s just a fun team. These guys just come to the park and win.”
Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi once told his players, “Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”
It’s safe to say that Falmouth has caught excellence so far this spring on the mound, the basepaths and certainly at the plate and the Yachtsmen are still very much alive in their pursuit of perfection.
After starting with a 14-0, five-inning home win over Poland in a game which saw junior ace Cam Guarino throw a no-hitter. Falmouth beat host Kennebunk, 5-3, won at Cape Elizabeth (8-2), downed visiting Freeport (11-2), mercy ruled host Fryeburg Academy (16-0, behind Max Fortier’s no-hitter), then shut out host Gray-New Gloucester, 7-0, beat visiting Greely (5-2), won at Lake Region (12-6) and Poland (18-1, in five-innings), downed visiting Wells, 9-3, won at Yarmouth, 5-1, downed visiting York by the same score, then Friday, earned its most impressive win of the season, romping at Greely, 17-3.
Yarmouth, meanwhile, was almost perfect the first half of the season, but has struggled of late.
The Clippers had to go nine innings to take the opener at Wells, 4-2, then won at home over Freeport (4-1) and Fryeburg Academy (9-0) and at Gray-New Gloucester (8-5). After settling for a 4-4 nine-inning tie at Greely, Yarmouth won 9-7 at Lake Region and downed visiting Poland, 13-3. The Clippers let a seventh inning lead slip away in an 8-7, 10-inning home loss to Wells, were blanked by visiting York, 1-0, then lost at home to Falmouth, 5-1. After getting back on track with a 5-4 victory at Kennebunk, Yarmouth lost, 3-1, at Cape Elizabeth Friday.
Entering play Monday, since the start of the 2002 season, Falmouth had won 17 of 27 meetings against Yarmouth (see sidebar below), including each of the past two.
This time around, on a gorgeous 75 degree afternoon, while the Yachtsmen couldn’t get their prolific offense going, they got the job done the old fashioned way, behind Armitage’s pitching and great team defense.
Armitage, who entered the game with a 5-0 record and an 0.80 ERA, walked Clippers senior first baseman Conor O’Donnell to start the game and wild pitched O’Donnell to second. Senior designated hitter Cody Cook then hit a fly ball to deep right, where Guarino made the catch for the first out. O’Donnell took off for third and Guarino delivered a strong relay throw to junior shortstop Robbie Armitage, whose throw to third got away.
Initially, it appeared that the ball had gone out of play and that O’Donnell would be awarded home, but due to Falmouth’s ground rules, that wasn’t the case.
“I argued that (the ball) was out of play (and O’Donnell should have been awarded home),” Yarmouth coach Marc Halsted said. “That part of the fence wasn’t covered, so I was making the statement that it was post to post around the field. They said it hasn’t been like that and I had to go with that. We had to go with the way the rule has been here forever. It wasn’t clearly stated in pregame and that was my argument. It came back to haunt us.”
“It was the right call,” Winship said. “I think the ball just got away. With a good throw, we had him by 10 steps or so. Luckily, (the runner) stumbled on the bag and wound up not scoring, which was good for us.”
The Clippers still had a runner at third with just one out, but couldn’t bring O’Donnell home, as junior leftfielder Gibson Harnett struck out swinging and Armitage blew strike three past senior catcher Jack Snyder as well.
Leading off the bottom half, Connor Aube hit a towering drive to center, well over the head of senior centerfielder Noah Pellerin. The only question was would the ball clear the wall and it did not, hitting the base of the fence, and Aube settled for a double. Gee then made contact and placed the ball perfectly, as it deflected off Klenda and senior second baseman Andrew Kinsman before winding up in centerfield for an RBI single which easily scored Aube for a 1-0 lead.
Just when it appeared Falmouth was primed to open things up, Klenda fanned junior shortstop Robbie Armitage and on strike three, Snyder threw out Gee trying to steal to complete a double play. Klenda then struck out Reece Armitage looking.
In the top of the second, DeFusco grounded out to short, but Klenda singled to left. Kinsman struck out swinging and with junior shortstop Chris Romano at the plate, a ball got free in the dirt and Klenda started to head for second, then tried to get back to first, only to be thrown out by sophomore catcher Garrett Aube.
Romano put on a defensive show in the bottom half of the inning, handling junior second baseman Colin Coyne’s sharp grounder on a short hop before throwing him out, then fielding ground balls off the bats of third baseman Chris Camelio and first baseman Jesse Melchiskey and throwing on to first to retire the side.
Romano walked on a 3-2 pitch to start the third, but after junior rightfielder John Thoma flew out deep to center, Romano was caught stealing and O’Donnell looked at strike three.
Klenda held the Yachtsmen at bay in the bottom half, fanning designated hitter Hogan Tracy, getting Garrett Aube to line softly to Kinsman at second, then, after Connor Aube walked and stole second, he caught Gee looking at strike three.
Cook fouled out to Melchiskey in foul ground to start the fourth and Harnett struck out, but on strike three, the ball got past Garrett Aube and Harnett reached safely. The Clippers couldn’t capitalize, however, as Snyder flew out to center and DeFusco checked his swing and grounded meekly to the mound.
In the bottom half, Robbie Armitage singled through the hole between third and short, but Reece Armitage popped out to short, Coyne flew deep to center, where Pellerin made a nice running catch, and Camelio fouled out to Snyder.
Reece Armitage made his presence felt defensively in the top of the fifth, racing into foul ground to catch a pop up off the bat of Klenda, then ranging even farther into foul ground to catch Kinsman’s pop-up.
“It’s Garrett’s first year as catcher and I’m an outfielder, so I have to go get it,” said Reece Armitage. “That’s something Coach preaches.”
Armitage then got Romano to ground to third for the third out.
Melchiskey beat out an infield single to start the bottom of the frame and Tracy sacrificed him to second, but as Garrett Aube beat out an infield single, Romano caught Melchiskey off second and threw to Kinsman, who threw on to DeFusco who tagged Melchiskey for the second out. Connor Aube then bid to open things up with a blast to dead center, but Pellerin went back and somehow, while falling, hauled the ball in with a tremendous catch to retire the side.
Yarmouth went quietly in the sixth, as Thoma popped to second, O’Donnell was out short-to-first on a nice play by Robbie Armitage from the hole, and Cook bounced out to second.
Falmouth threatened to at least double its lead when Gee led off the bottom half with a double to left-center. Robbie Armitage then hit a sharp grounder that DeFusco dove to stop and his throw to first was just in time for the out. On the play, Gee tried to take third, but O’Donnell gunned him down to complete the double play.
“The best thing about the O’Donnell throw to third was that the dugout knew we had them because he has a hose and is a great competitor,” Halsted said.
Reece Armitage grounded out to second to send the game to the seventh.
There, the Clippers almost tied it, but were ultimately left frustrated.
Harnett struck out leading off and Armitage struck out Snyder swinging as well, but DeFusco went the other way and grounded a single past a diving Coyne at second to keep hope alive. Senior Caleb Gray came on to pinch-run and after Klenda worked the count full, Klenda lined a shot down the leftfield line.
Had the ball landed fair, Gray would have tied the game and Klenda would have been in scoring position as the go-ahead run.
But it landed just foul.
“Caleb had a great jump,’ Halsted said. “If that ball lands fair, it’s a run.”
“That missed by about a foot,” Winship said. “That runner would have scored for sure and he would have had a double.”
Armitage had to throw just one more pitch and he blew strike three past Klenda to end it as Falmouth held on for the 1-0 victory.
“They made it interesting at the end,” Reece Armitage said. “I looked at (pitching coach Craig Pendleton) and he said to go with the fastball. It felt good.”
“(Yarmouth) made plays today and we did some uncharacteristic things on the basepaths, ran into outs that we don’t normally do,” Winship said. “We just made mistakes, but luckily they didn’t come back to bite us.”
Reece Armitage improved to 6-0 after allowing just two hits and two walks in seven commanding, shutout innings. His eight strikeouts give him an even 50 on the season.
“I had some nerves early, but I battled through,” Armitage said. “My curveball worked today. I worked on it in my bullpen session.”
“I thought it was Reece’s best performance of the year,” Winship said. “He really stepped up and showed why he’s one of the best pitchers around.”
“I’ve refereed many of (Reece’s) hockey games and he’s a competitor,” Halsted said. “He pitched a great game.”
On a team that also boasts the equally unhittable Guarino, Armitage combines to make up a daunting 1-2 punch.
“(Cam and I) compete, but it’s nice to have someone at my level to push me a little bit,” Armitage said.
“We have a 1a and a 1b,” Winship said. “We have the best 1-2 punch around. Anytime one of those guys gets the ball, we have a great chance to win.”
Offensively, Gee had two hits and the game’s only RBI and Connor Aube scored the lone run and had a stolen base.
The Yachtsmen stranded three runners.
For Yarmouth, only DeFusco and Klenda mustered hits and three runners were left on.
Klenda was the hard-luck loser, falling to 2-2 after allowing one earned run on six hits and a walk in six innings. He fanned four.
“Luke wasn’t selfish and put the ball in play for us,” Halsted said. “That’s an unselfish pitcher.”
Falmouth was certainly impressed by Klenda’s effort.
“I have to congratulate Luke,” Reece Armitage said. “He has an unreal curveball. It’s filthy and tough to adjust to.”
“I have to tip my cap to Klenda,” Winship said. “He pitched a great game. He came ready to play.”
At the end of the day, Yarmouth fell just short.
“It’s a heartbreaker, but you have to get more than two hits to win a ballgame,” Halsted said. “You don’t put it on the umpire or the foul line being in the wrong place, you have to hit.”
The Clippers’ defensive effort pleased Halsted.
“Guys who worked through defensive miscues in the past had really good games today,” he said. “Noah made an unbelievable catch. Andrew Kinsman made hard plays look easy and Chris Romano had his moments. They were there to back up their teammates. We made great defensive plays and had a pitcher pounding the zone and giving us a chance to make plays.”
Yarmouth (now sixth in Class B South Heal Points standings) has three pivotal games left as it looks to climb the playoff ladder. The Clippers visit Poland Wednesday, then close with home games versus Gray-New Gloucester Friday and currently top-ranked Cape Elizabeth Tuesday of next week.
“We’ve played 13 games and we’ve faced the other team’s number one pitcher nine times and the other four, we faced the No. 2,” Halsted said. “That’s just life. We haven’t had the fortune of getting advantageous matchups. We have to step up.”
Falmouth appears to have the top seed in Class A South wrapped up and won’t leave home between now and the regional final (if the Yachtsmen get that far).
The Yachtsmen wrap up the regular season with home games against Kennebunk Wednesday and Gray-New Gloucester next Wednesday.
Falmouth last went undefeated in the regular season in 1997, but didn’t finish the job that year, being upset by St. Dom’s in the Western C semifinals. The Yachtsmen did sandwich that campaign with Class C crowns in 1996 and 1998.
“Being undefeated doesn’t matter, we’re just dialed in and no one is in our way,” said Reece Armitage. “We’re ready for the playoffs. We want the No. 1 spot. We won’t slow down. We’ll keep our foot on the pedal. We just want to get in the playoffs and keep rolling.”
“I’d like to think we’re definitely in the top four, I think that’s a given,” Winship said. “Unfortunately, we don’t play those (Class A) teams. I just go off of what I hear and what I saw in the preseason. We’ll got out and give it our best.
“Not one player has talked about the record. I don’t care about being undefeated. People say it’s good to lose one, but I don’t know about that. We’re having fun winning right now. Our philosophy is to stay on that train and see how far it goes. It is what it is. We’ll come to the park and if we win, we win. If not, we gave it our best shot.”
Yarmouth senior pitcher Luke Klenda delivers to Falmouth senior Connor Aube, who rips a double in the bottom of the first inning. Aube then scored the lone run of the game.
Falmouth junior pitcher Reece Armitage (15) is congratulated by his teammates after recording the final out of Monday’s victory.
@ Yarmouth 5 Falmouth 3
@ Falmouth 11 Yarmouth 1
@ Falmouth 12 Yarmouth 2
Falmouth 5 @ Yarmouth 4
@ Falmouth 4 Yarmouth 1
@ Yarmouth 6 Falmouth 3
Yarmouth 7 @ Falmouth 5
Falmouth 9 @ Yarmouth 1
@ Yarmouth 13 Falmouth 5
Yarmouth 5 @ Falmouth 2
Falmouth 3 @ Yarmouth 2
@ Falmouth 8 Yarmouth 7
@ Falmouth 9 Yarmouth 8
@ Yarmouth 4 Falmouth 3
Falmouth 8 @ Yarmouth 5
@ Falmouth 9 Yarmouth 2
Yarmouth 9 @ Falmouth 5
Falmouth 14 @ Yarmouth 1 (5 innings)
@ Yarmouth 2 Falmouth 0
Falmouth 6 @ Yarmouth 5
@ Falmouth 9 Yarmouth 8
@ Yarmouth 8 Falmouth 2
Falmouth 6 @ Yarmouth 3
@ Falmouth 10 Yarmouth 4