Cockburn's gem leads Freeport to key win at Cape

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Freeport sophomore Heath Cockburn shows focus and determination as he delivers a strike Monday. Cockburn allowed just one hit in leading the Falcons to a 3-0 win at Cape Elizabeth.

Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Freeport 3 Cape Elizabeth 0

F- 001 002 0- 3 6 0
CE- 000 000 0- 0 1 4

Top 3rd
C. Wagner doubled to right, Sawicki scored.

Top 6th
Shea hit sacrifice fly to center, G. Wagner scored. Salter scored on throwing error.

Runs:
F- Salter, Sawicki, G. Wagner

RBI:
F- C. Wagner, Shea

Doubles:
F- Sawicki, C. Wagner

Left on base:
F- 8
CE- 1

Cockburn and C. Wagner; Sullivan, Riggle (3), Agrodnia (6), Bakke (7) and Tinsman

F:
Cockburn (W, 3-0) 7 IP 1 H 0 R 0 BB 7 K 

CE:
Sullivan 2.2 IP 1 H 0 R 0 BB 1 K 2 HBP
Riggle (L, 0-1) 2.2 IP 5 H 3 R 2 ER 2 BB 2 K 1 HBP
Agrodnia 0.2 IP 0 H 0 R 1 BB 1 K
Bakke 1 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 1 K

Time: 1:25

CAPE ELIZABETH—Freeport sophomore pitcher Heath Cockburn wasn’t perfect Monday afternoon.

But he was pretty darned close.

And as a result, the Falcons earned a signature victory at Holman Field, further establishing themselves as a top Class B South contender, while knocking host Cape Elizabeth from the unbeaten ranks in the process.

Cockburn, coming off a strong start in a win last week at perennial powerhouse Greely, took it to another level against the Capers’ potent offense, retiring the first 15 batters he faced.

Freeport gave Cockburn the only run he would need when senior shortstop Jack Sawicki and senior catcher Colby Wagner hit consecutive two-out doubles in the top of the third inning.

The game stayed 1-0 until the sixth, when the Falcons added a couple insurance runs. With the bases loaded and one out, junior centerfielder Eriksen Shea hit a sacrifice fly and on the play, a throwing error allowed another run to score.

That left all eyes on Cockburn, whose 15-up, 15-down perfection was well known at the field, although was left unspoken in the dugout.

Cockburn’s bid for baseball immortality ended in the bottom of the sixth, as Cape Elizabeth senior Carson Sullivan led off with a single, but Cockburn stranded him by retiring the next three hitters before closing out his masterpiece with a 1-2-3 seventh inning.

Cockburn allowed just one hit, no walks and faced one batter over the minimum as he led Freeport to a 3-0 victory, which lifted the Falcons to 5-3 on the season and dropped the Capers to 6-1.

“I felt great all game,” Cockburn said. “My curveball wasn’t on 100 percent during warmups, but it got better in the game. It’s the best game I’ve ever pitched. I had confidence going in. There was no reason to fear them.”

Hello, again

The Capers and Falcons met Friday in Freeport and Cape Elizabeth prevailed, 8-2, behind a home run from senior catcher Brendan Tinsman. Senior Ryan Weare earned the victory and also had three hits.

That win continued a sizzling start for the Capers, who have lived up to preseason billing as a team to beat in Class B South. Cape Elizabeth started with a 13-3 (six-inning) home win over Leavitt, then needed 13-innings to outlast host Greely in a playoff rematch, 4-1. The Capers then downed host Lake Region (16-0, in five-innings), visiting York (4-1), Freeport (8-2) and Saturday, blanked visiting Fryeburg Academy, 4-0. 

Freeport meanwhile, has been very competitive as well. The Falcons started by beating visiting Poland (7-4) and Traip Academy (6-5) and host Lake Region (12-6) before letting a four-run seventh inning lead slip away in a 5-4 loss at Wells. After bouncing back to win at Greely, 6-2, Freeport lost at home to Cape Elizabeth (8-2) and Saturday, dropped a tough 5-4 decision at York, as again the winning run scored in the bottom of the seventh.

Friday’s victory was the second straight in the series for the Capers. Monday, on a windy, but pleasant afternoon (54 degrees), Cape Elizabeth sought its best start since the 2010 season, but the Falcons beat the Capers for the first time since a 3-1 triumph in the 2016 Class B South Final and for the first time in the regular season since April 22, 2013.

Freeport squandered a chance to take the lead in the top of the first.

Junior third baseman Shea Wagner flew out to left to start the game, but Sullivan, who started for Cape Elizabeth, hit Sawicki with a pitch on the helmet, then hit Colby Wagner on the back. With junior first baseman Toby Holt at the plate, the Falcons attempted a hit-and-run, but Holt swung and missed and on the play, Tinsman easily threw out Sawicki at third. Holt kept the inning alive by reaching on an infield single, which moved Wagner up to third and Cockburn followed with a ground ball down the third base line which looked like a sure hit and run, but Capers senior third baseman Sean Agrodnia made a nice backhanded stab, then threw a strike across the diamond to beat Cockburn in a bang-bang play to end the frame.

Cockburn started strong, by getting Cape Elizabeth senior shortstop Finn Bowe to fly to left before fanning senior second baseman Val Murphy swinging and Tinsman looking.

Sullivan set Freeport down in order in the second, getting sophomore rightfielder Gabe Wagner to pop to short, Senior leftfielder Caleb Salter to look at strike three and junior designated hitter Finn Johnston to pop out to short.

In the bottom half, Cockburn struck out Weare swinging, got Agrodnia to pop out foul to Colby Wagner at the backstop and induced a ground out to second off the bat of junior first baseman Alec Riggle.

The Falcons then broke through in the third.

Sullivan got Shea to ground out to Bowe leading off, with Bowe making a nice throw from the hole. Shea Wagner then grounded out to first and that was it for Sullivan, who was replaced by Riggle (Sullivan went to third base and Agrodnia moved to first).

 “You could tell (Carson) wasn’t feeling it in the first inning, so I took him out,” Cape Elizabeth coach Andy Wood said.

Riggle was on the verge of ending the inning when he got ahead of Sawicki 0-2, but Sawicki belted a double to left-center. That brought up Colby Wagner, who ripped a shot down the first base line that got past Agrodnia for a double which allowed Sawicki to score easily. Holt followed with a single to left, but Capers senior Zachaois Fitz easily threw out Wagner at the plate to end the frame with Freeport on top, 1-0.

“We try to make things happen on the bases,” said Falcons coach Bill Ridge. “That’s how we’ve scored a lot of our runs and won games. We tried it today and they cut us down a few times, so give them credit.”

In the bottom half, Cockburn completed a perfect first trip through the Cape Elizabeth lineup by getting Sullivan to bounce out to second, junior rightfielder Jameson Bakke to chase strike three and senior centerfielder Cooper Hoffman to bounce back to the mound.

The Falcons had a chance to add to their lead in the top of the fourth, but couldn’t do so.

Cockburn popped to short leading off, but Gabe Wagner walked. With Salter at the plate, Wagner tried to steal second on a pitch in the dirt, but Tinsman still was able to throw him out. Salter reached on a throwing error by Sullivan at third and Johnston reached on a wind-blown bloop single to center, but Shea ended the threat by grounding out to Bowe at short.

The Capers came out aggressive in the bottom of the fourth, but still couldn’t solve Cockburn. Bowe swung at the first pitch and lined out to Shea in center. Murphy also swung at the first pitch and popped back to the mound. That brought up Tinsman, who worked the count in his favor, 3-0, but with the green light, he popped out on the right side of the infield and Holt made the catch just on the foul side of first base for the third out.

Shea Wagner led off the top of the fifth with a ground ball back to Riggle. After Sawicki walked on a 3-2 pitch, Colby Wagner flew out deep to center and Holt struck out swinging.

Cockburn made quick work of the Capers’ 4-5-6 hitters in the bottom half, getting Weare to ground sharply to short on the first pitch, working his way back from a 3-0 count to get Agrodnia to pop out to second baseman Liam Holt on a 3-2 offering and getting Riggle to ground sharply to second, where Liam Holt made a nice stab before throwing to Toby Holt at first to retire the side.

At that juncture, Cockburn had faced 15 batters and retired them all.

And everyone in attendance was aware of it, even if they were keeping it hush-hush.

“I knew it,” Cockburn said. “My teammates didn’t talk to me. That’s a baseball thing.” 

“Heath doesn’t really talk to anybody anyway, so that wasn’t a huge change,” Ridge said. “I didn’t hear anyone talking about (the perfect game). We were all aware he was having a special day.”

Freeport gave Cockburn some insurance in the sixth, thanks to some largesse from Cape Elizabeth.

Cockburn struck out swinging to start the frame, but Gabe Wagner lined a single up the middle and Salter was hit by a pitch. Riggle then tried to pick off Wagner at second, but threw wildly, allowing both runners to move up.

With the count 1-0 on Johnston, Riggle was replaced by Agrodnia, who threw two more balls to Johnston before Wood ordered him to be walked intentionally. 

That set the stage for Shea, who had the biggest at-bat of the game.

Shea was able to make contact with an Agrodnia fastball and drive it to medium-deep center. The ball was caught by Hoffman and on the play, Wagner scored easily. The throw came home to Tinsman, who tried to nab Salter taking third, but the throw was wild and Salter strolled home with another run.

“That was a big at-bat,” Ridge said. “We were hoping (Eriksen would) beat something out on the ground, but he made good contact. If that found a gap, that would have been three runs.”

Shea Wagner struck out swinging, but the Falcons had a 3-0 advantage.

Sullivan quickly ended the perfect game and no-hit drama in the bottom of the sixth, when he lined a single just past Cockburn’s glove and into centerfield for a single.

“It was a fastball that got up in the zone,” Cockburn said. “I almost had that one. He was the leadoff hitter last time and he hit seventh today.”

The Capers had life and a chance to cut into the deficit, but in his most impressive feat of the afternoon, Cockburn bounced back from the emotional disappointment of losing his bid for perfection by catching Bakke looking at strike three, fanning Hoffman when he couldn’t check his swing and getting Bowe to ground into a short-to-second force out.

“(Heath) could have gone a lot of different ways there, but he went right back at them,” Ridge said.

“That was our one shot,” Wood said. “You can’t do anything without a baserunner. For (Cockburn) to come out and throw like that, that was pretty impressive. He came in and threw his off-speed pitches and located them for strikes. That was impressive. He got in rhythm and we couldn’t do anything about it.”

Bakke came on to pitch in the top of the seventh and after Sawicki reached on a ground ball through the third baseman’s legs, Colby Wagner’s sacrifice bunt attempt resulted in a force out at second and a throw back to first to pick off Wagner for a double play. Toby Holt then struck out to send the game to the bottom of the seventh.

There, Cockburn finished off his transcendent performance.

Murphy tried to bunt his way on, but Shea Wagner made a nice play on the ball and threw him out in a close play. Tinsman then worked the count full and hit the ball deep to left, but Salter tracked it down for the second out. Weare also went 3-2 before he swung and missed, bringing an end to Freeport’s 3-0 victory in a tidy 85 minutes.

“They were hitting the ball, but we made plays on defense,” Cockburn said. “Right now, we’re playing well defensively. We had that one bad game against Wells, but we’ve rebounded from that. It’s a big win. It’s a lot of Heal Points beating these guys.”

The Falcons’ offense featured six hits by six different players, runs from Salter, Sawicki and Gabe Wagner and RBI from Colby Wagner and Shea.

Freeport stranded eight runners.

Ultimately, the story was Cockburn, who had the game of his life, allowing only one hit in seven shutout innings as he improved to 3-0. Cockburn didn’t allow a walk and struck out seven.

“That was exceptional,” Ridge said. “That’s two starts in a row he’s done that for us. He plays a lot of baseball against a lot of tough competition. He faces good hitters all the time for his travel team. He’s a gamer and you can tell. As the moments get bigger, he gets into it a little bit more.”

Ridge said that Cockburn got a big assist from his catcher.

“One of the things we’re really lucky about is Colby behind the plate,” Ridge said. “He calls a great game. We empower him to call pitches and he helps Heath keep guys guessing. The pitchers are confident in whatever signs Colby gives.”

Frustration

Cape Elizabeth left its only base-runner. 

Sullivan didn’t earn a decision, pitching 2.2 scoreless innings, hitting two batters and fanning one.

Riggle fell to 0-1 after surrendering three runs (two earned) on five hits in 2.2 innings. He walked two, hit a batter and registered one strikeout.

Agrodnia pitched two-thirds of an inning. He didn’t give up a hit or a run, walked one and struck out another.

Bakke threw a flawless inning, striking out one.

“It’s hard to beat anybody when a pitcher throws a perfect game through five (innings),” Wood said. “Freeport, since (Bill) has been there, always competes.”

Second half

With the season being halfway done for Freeport and nearly halfway complete for Cape Elizabeth, the games will only take on more importance in the days to come.

The Capers have a big test Wednesday at defending Class B champion Yarmouth (see theforecaster.net for game story), the team which beat them in last year’s semifinals. Friday brings a visit from Wells and Monday of next week, Cape Elizabeth goes to York.

“Little things hurt us today,” Wood said. “We’ll try to remember that feeling. We have big games Wednesday and Friday and we’ll see how we bounce back. We knew we wouldn’t go undefeated. To be 6-0 was pretty good against the teams we’ve faced.”

The Falcons are back in action Wednesday, when Old Orchard Beach pays a visit. After going to Lincoln Academy Friday, Freeport has home showdowns against Yarmouth and Morse next week.

“I know we can compete with anyone,” Cockburn said. “There are a lot of good teams, but we should win a lot of games.”

“It’s crazy to think we’re halfway through the season already,” said Ridge. “We know we can compete with anybody. We rely on our aggressiveness and we work hard. I think we can make a run for different reasons (than the 2016 team which rose from the No. 8 seed to the regional title). We don’t have a 1-2 punch at the top (like 2016), but we’re more complete. We’re absolutely more athletic and aggressive than we were.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Cape Elizabeth senior catcher Brendan Tinsman tags out Freeport’s Colby Wagner at home plate.

Freeport designated hitter Finn Johnston takes a swing.

Cape Elizabeth senior leftfielder Zachaois Fitz dives in vain in an attempt to catch a foul ball.

Cape Elizabeth junior Alec Riggle delivers to the plate.

Freeport shortstop Jack Sawicki rounds third and comes home with the game’s first run in the top of the third inning.

Cape Elizabeth senior shortstop Finn Bowe tags out Freeport’s Gabe Wagner on a fourth inning steal attempt.

Freeport sophomore pitcher Heath Cockburn takes a big swing.

Cape Elizabeth senior Carson Sullivan lines the Capers’ lone hit.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.