OLD ORCHARD BEACH—The longtime rival Cape Elizabeth and Greely baseball teams got a jump-start on next week’s playoffs in the regular season finale at the Ballpark Tuesday night.
When these two squads get together, drama (and often extra innings) ensues and the second encounter of the season (with perhaps a third to come) lived up to billing, producing highlights, a dose of controversy and some strange plays.
When the dust settled, the Rangers shot in the foot their quest to earn the top seed for the upcoming Western Class B playoffs with four errors in the field and several baserunning blunders.
The Capers moved into consideration for the top spot after they got stronger as the game progressed, went ahead to stay in a wild five-run fifth inning and held on to win, 7-4, behind the gritty pitching combination of junior Will LeBlond and senior Cam Brown.
Cape Elizabeth finishes the regular season 12-4. Greely winds up 13-3.
“I’m really pleased,” said Capers coach Chris Hayward. “We made a bunch of big defensive plays when we needed to. We played good enough defense to not fall out of it and believed in ourselves.”
Back on May 2, in Cumberland, Cape Elizabeth outlasted Greely, 8-4, in nine innings. The Rangers wouldn’t lose again until Friday, when they couldn’t hold an early 5-0 lead and fell, 6-5, at Yarmouth, snapping a nine-game win streak.
The Capers won twice more after that early victory over Greely to go to 5-0, then, after a home loss to Wells, ripped off four consecutive wins, but of late, Cape Elizabeth has been up and down, dropping games at home to Yarmouth and at Falmouth, then, after downing Lake Region and York, falling, 8-4, at Wells Friday.
The Capers and Rangers have taken turns winning the regional crown the past four years. Greely took Western B and went on to win it all in 2007 and 2009, while the Capers got to the state game in 2008 and again last spring, but fell short both times.
In the past 20 years, the teams have played nine times in the postseason, with the Rangers taking five of those meetings.
Tuesday night, on a beautiful evening for baseball, the ancient rivals put on another show.
Greely made noise right away with the bats, but had chances to break it open and failed.
With one out in the top of the first, junior third baseman Liam Maker singled to right and when sophomore Chris Robicheaw overran the ball for an error, Maker went to second. Senior leftfielder Ben Shain followed with a single to center. Maker was going to stop at third, but when senior centerfielder Rob Macdonald couldn’t handle the ball, Maker easily scored for a 1-0 lead. Senior shortstop Matt Labbe then singled, but Leeman wasn’t able to help himself and extend the lead as he hit into a double play.
In the bottom of the first, Leeman got off to a hot start, inducing senior shortstop Cam Brown to fly out to left, catching senior leftfielder Jack Barber looking at strike three, then getting senior catcher Kyle Danielson to fly harmlessly to center.
In the top of the second, the Rangers were back at it with the bats as senior first baseman Dan McKersie led off with a bloop hit to right-center and junior second baseman Brad McKenney followed with a solid single to center to put runners at the corners. After McKenney stole second, sophomore designated hitter Jonah Normandeau walked to load the bases, but somehow, Greely couldn’t add to its lead.
Freshman rightfielder Bailey Train hit a sharp ground ball to third, where junior Derek Roberts stepped on the bag and threw home to Danielson, who tagged out McKersie for a seldom seen 5-2 double play. Junior catcher Pete Stauber then hit a ball down the rightfield line, but Robicheaw was able to make a clutch diving catch to end the inning.
In the bottom half, Macdonald grounded out to short, freshman designated hitter Chris Tinsman struck out swinging and senior second baseman Pat Tyler bounced out to second.
Greely made it 2-0 in the top of the third.
Shain walked with one out, but when a bloop to right-center off the bat of Labbe was bobbled by Tyler, Shain was gunned down at second. Leeman helped himself, however, by blasting a double to right-center and Labbe raced all the way home to make it 2-0. Leeman tried to stretch his hit into a triple and was thrown out, ending the frame.
In the bottom half of the third, Cape Elizabeth finally got to Leeman and tied the game.
Robicheaw got things started by drawing a walk on a full-count pitch. After senior first baseman Ben Berman struck out, Roberts singled off Leeman’s body, putting runners at the corners. Brown then singled sharply to left to put the Capers on the board. Barber bounced back to Leeman, who tried to get the force at second, but his throw was high, scoring Roberts. Leeman avoided further damage by getting Danielson to pop foul to third and Macdonald to ground out to short.
In the top of the fourth, Greely went back on top.
McKersie sparked the inning with a leadoff single to center. A wild pitch moved him to second and McKenney walked. Normandeau singled toward the hole, but Roberts made a diving stop. He looked at McKersie running by, thought about throwing to second, but decided against it, then fired to first to barely get Normandeau. With two runners in scoring position, Train hit a fly ball to left that chased home McKersie for a 3-2 advantage.
McKersie then started the bottom of the fourth with a superb defensive play, snaring Tinsman’s line drive that appeared ticketed for the rightfield corner by extending his long left arm to make the grab. Tyler flew out to center, but Leeman then lost his control, hitting Robicheaw with a pitch and walking Berman. Roberts hit a slow roller to short and Labbe’s throw was just in time to end the inning.
The fifth inning proved to be fateful and wacky.
Maker led off the top half with a walk and one out later, Labbe singled to center. Leeman was then hit by a pitch to load the bases and once again, Greely was on the verge of breaking the game open. McKersie followed with a slow ground ball to second that was too slow for a double play, but after Tyler’s throw to Brown forced Leeman at second, Leeman was called for interference, nullifying Maker’s run, keeping it 3-2.
The Rangers weren’t happy with the call since the Capers weren’t even thinking of throwing to first and that the run had scored uncontested, only to be waved off.
“(The umpire) said (Leeman) got his hands up,” said Rangers coach Derek Soule. “The only thing I wanted clarification on was the fact (the shortstop, Brown) was clearly not going to make the throw. (Brown) half-raised his arm to throw, but (the umpire) said it didn’t matter.”
The Capers then pounced in their half of the frame.
Brown led off by waiting on a breaking ball and doubling to left-center.
“We just had to settle down,” Brown said. “(Leeman) was getting more wild and he hung a curveball to me and I just went with it.”
Barber beat out an infield single to short and Danielson walked to load the bases. Macdonald followed with a ground ball down the third base line. Maker was in position to field the ball on his backhand and get the force at third, but the ball went under his glove and down the line. Brown and Barber both scored to put Cape Elizabeth ahead for the first time as Danielson and went to third and Macdonald took second.
“I was looking fastball and he gave me one and I turned on it and hit it to third,” said Macdonald. “I’ve been cold the past couple of games and that’s exactly what I needed. It felt good. It was a big inning for us.”
The Capers were just getting started.
After Tinsman fanned looking, Tyler executed a nice squeeze bunt to score Danielson. Maker then threw the ball away trying to catch Tyler at first and Macdonald scored as well to make it 6-3. Robicheaw walked and that was it for Leeman.
Sophomore Seth Dobieski came on to pinch-hit and grounded back to the mound. Normandeau threw to short for the force, but Labbe then unleashed a wild throw trying to complete a double play to bring home Robicheaw and Cape Elizabeth had its fifth run of the inning and a 7-3 advantage.
Greely looked to answer in the top of the sixth, but couldn’t take complete advantage. McKenney opened with a walk and that was the end of the line for LeBlond as Hayward was out of the dugout the second ball four hit Danielson’s glove.
“Every game this year, coach Hayward says, ‘Cam, you’re in the hole. Be ready.,'” Brown said. “The first game against Greely, I did the same thing. I knew I was going to pitch.”
“I like Cam having the ball in his hands,” Hayward said. “I like having the ball in ‘Big’s’ hands too, but he wasn’t in the zone as much as usual so I gave the ball to Cam.”
Facing Brown, Normandeau singled sharply down the rightfield line, driving McKenney to third. Senior Sean Ross pinch-ran for Normandeau and Train followed with a line drive just past the diving Tyler at second to score McKenney, bringing Stauber to the plate as the tying run. Stauber hit a sharp ground ball toward second that Tyler trapped and turned into a force out. Maker walked to load the bases, but Shain took a called third strike on the outside corner, leaving it up to Labbe, who grounded out to Berman, ending yet another threat.
Roberts started the bottom half of the sixth by hitting the ball off Normandeau to McKenney, who threw him out. Brown bounced back to the mound, but Barber was hit by a pitch. After a wild pitch, Danielson got hit as well, but Macdonald grounded out to short to end it.
In the top of the seventh, Greely, for the first and only time, went quietly.
Brown fanned Leeman looking to start the inning. McKersie then bounced a ball in front of the plate which Danielson pounced on before throwing on to first for out number two. That left it up to McKenney, who hit a ground ball to the right of Berman at first. Berman grabbed it, tossed to Brown and that was the ballgame.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors on this team,” Brown said. “That’s what it comes down to. Senior leadership in the lineup and our seniors are hot right now. We’re playing well and the other kids are playing well too.”
“We did the same thing last year and went to the state title game,” LeBlond said. “It helps. We think us, Yarmouth and Greely are the top three teams. To beat (Greely) going into the playoffs is big.”
“Derek Roberts came up huge a couple times at third,” Hayward added. “Chris Robicheaw had a great play in rightfield laying out. We turned three double plays. Leeman’s good. We finally got to him.”
LeBlond struggled, but still improved to 5-1. He surrendered four runs (three earned) on eight hits and had trouble with his control, giving up six walks, while hitting a batter.
“LeBlond is just a master escape artist,” Macdonald said. “Tonight, he was great for us. It was a great team win. No one gave up and we got hot late and it worked for us.”
“I didn’t really have my best tonight,” LeBlond said. “My defense helped me out a lot. Usually, I can hit spots, hit corners and keep the ball low, but today it just wasn’t there. We made some plays. Leeman’s a great pitcher. I really didn’t think we’d get as many runs as we did. They picked me up and helped me out. It was easier pitching with a lead.”
Brown gave up two hits and a walk, while fanning two, in his two innings of relief.
Offensively, Cape Elizabeth managed just four hits, but took advantage of its baserunners. Brown was the Capers’ only multiple hitter and had his team’s lone extra base hit. Brown, Macdonald and Tyler drove in runs. Robicheaw scored twice.
For Greely, Leeman (5-1) suffered his initial defeat after giving up seven runs (just three earned) on four hits with four walks in 4.1 innings. He struck out four, but also threw a wild pitch and hit a batter. Normandeau was close to perfect in his 2.2 inning relief stint, only hitting the two batters in the seventh.
On offense, the Rangers had multiple hits from Labbe and McKenney, two RBI from Train, a double from Leeman and a steal by McKenney, but it wasn’t enough as Greely stranded nine runners.
“We lost this game, I thought, because we lost our composure defensively and on the basepaths,” Soule said. “That’s one of those phases of the game that you rarely lose a game. We ran ourselves out of a few innings. Same thing happened the first game against Cape, we had a chance to blow it open, let them hang around and made mistakes to let them back in.”
There will be fluctuation in the final Western B Heal Points standings, but Cape Elizabeth and Greely are both assured of finishing in the top three and hosting at least one game, in the quarterfinal round on June 9.
The Rangers had a better-than-expected regular season, at least in light of their youth, and hope to return to form in the postseason.
“We have accomplished a lot, but as well as we’ve played in stretches, it was disappointing to end with two subpar performances against rivals,” Soule said. “Hopefully we’ll get another shot at them in the playoffs.
“Playoffs always feel like a new season. We’ll look forward to the tournament. The way it’s shaping up, we could have a really tough first round game. It’s not ideally where I wanted to be, but once we get the seeding, it will be quickly forgotten and we’ll focus on the task at hand, I think.”
The Capers will look to build on Tuesday’s win, make another playoff run and this time, cap it off in style.
“We beat Greely twice this season, so I think it does a lot for our confidence coming off the loss to Wells,” Macdonald said. “Going into the playoffs, a lot of guys are getting really hot and this is exactly where we were the last two years. Hopefully this time, we can turn it into something really big.”
“We want a state title,” Brown said. “A bunch of these guys have gone 0-for. We’ll work hard the next couple weeks.”
“As usual, it’s a deep league,” Hayward added. “Anyone can get anyone on a given day. We’ll see what we can do. We’ll cherish each day now. They’re few.”
In one of Cape Elizabeth’s many pivotal defensive plays on the night, senior shortstop Cam Brown eludes sliding Greely senior Matt Labbe and completes a first inning double play.
Greely first baseman Dan McKersie records an out just before Cape Elizabeth’s Rob Macdonald hits the bag.
Greely junior ace Mike Leeman delivers a pitch Tuesday. Leeman suffered his first loss of the year.
Greely’s Dan McKersie slides into third before Cape Elizabeth’s Derek Roberts can apply the tag.
Greely first baseman Dan McKersie records an out.
Greely senior Matt Labbe dives back into third base ahead of the tag of Cape Elizabeth’s Derek Roberts.
Greely’s Liam Maker gets tagged out by Cape Elizabeth’s Cam Brown after Maker tried to steal second base in the third inning.
Greely’s Dan McKersie slides in safely ahead of the tag of Cape Elizabeth senior catcher Kyle Danielson to score on a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning.
Cape Elizabeth sophomore rightfielder Chris Robicheaw makes a tremendous diving catch in the second inning of Tuesday’s 7-4 come-from-behind win over Greely in the regular season finale.
More photos below.
G- 101 101 0- 4 10 4
CE- 002 050 x- 7 4 2
Shain singled to center, Maker scored on Macdonald’s error.
Leeman doubled to right-center, Labbe scored.
Brown singled to left, Robicheaw scored. Roberts scored on Leeman’s throwing error.
Train flew out to left, McKersie scored.
Brown and Barber scored on Maker’s error. Danielson scored on Tyler’s squeeze bunt. Macdonald scored on Maker’s error. Tyler scored on Labbe’s error.
Train singled to right, McKenney scored.
Doubles- G, Leeman; CE, Brown
RBI- G, Train 2, Leeman; CE, Brown, Macdonald, Tyler
Repeat hitters- G, Labbe, McKenney; CE, Brown
Runs- G, Labbe, Maker, McKenney, McKersie; CE, Robicheaw 2, Barber, Brown, Danielson, Macdonald, Roberts
Stolen base- G, McKenney
Leeman, Normandeau (5) and Stauber; LeBlond, Brown (6) and Danielson.
Leeman (L, 5-1) 4.1 IP 4 H 7 R 3 ER 4 BB 4 K 1 WP 1 HBP
Normandeau 2.2 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 0 K 2 HBP
LeBlond (W, 5-1) 5 IP 8 H 4 R 3 ER 6 BB 0 K 1 HBP
Brown 2 IP 2 H 0 R 1 BB 2 K