Greely takes Western B baseball title; Gardiner next in the state game Saturday
STANDISH— It took seemingly forever for the Greely baseball team to win its semifinal round game Saturday at Cape Elizabeth.
Tuesday, however, in the regional final at St. Joseph's College, the Rangers took care of business early and often, scoring five runs in the first inning and three more in the second, which led the way to a 15-8 victory over Lincoln Academy and their second Western B title in three seasons.
Greely advanced to face defending champion Gardiner (17-2) in the Class B Final Saturday at 5 p.m., back at St. Joe's.
The regional final took its sweet time and won't go down as the best contest every played, but when all was said and done, the Rangers got more than enough offense and a gutsy pitching effort from senior Sam Stauber to advance.
"It wasn't the prettiest game," said Greely coach Derek Soule. "Today was very different from Saturday. We played in a variety of contests all year. We've shown we can pitch and play defense and we've shown we can outslug teams."
The Rangers went 12-4 in the regular season and earned the No. 4 seed in Western B. They rolled past No. 5 York, 6-1, in the quarterfinals, then ended Cape Elizabeth's reign as regional champion with a 1-0, 10 inning triumph over the host Capers Saturday afternoon.
Lincoln Academy, meanwhile, which lost to Cape Elizabeth in last spring's regional final, was also 12-4 in the regular season and took the No. 3 seed into the playoffs. The Eagles defeated No. 11 Oak Hill and No. 2 Mountain Valley to advance.
The teams don't play in the regular season. The most recent playoff meeting came in 2004 (an 11-0, six inning win, for Greely in the semifinals). The Rangers also beat the Eagles, 8-3, in the 1994 regional final.
Greely would make it a perfect 3-0 Tuesday, but it took awhile.
After a 16 minute delay to start the game, the top of the first couldn't have gone better for the Rangers. By the time the first out was recorded, Greely had plated five runs to seize control for good.
Stauber led things off by walking on seven pitches. Senior second baseman Leo Paquette walked on five pitches. Lincoln Academy starter, junior Ben McLain, then balked the runners to second and third and Rangers senior centerfielder Nate Martin came up huge, driving a pitch over the Eagles' centerfielder's head to score Stauber and Paquette. When the Eagles' shortstop threw the ball away, Martin came home as well and just like that it was 3-0 Greely and McLain's day on the hill was over.
Senior Gavin Jeannides came in to pitch and didn't fare much better initially. Senior first baseman Pat Copp walked on four pitches, senior third baseman Kevin Hart reached on an error and senior catcher Ryan Howland walked to load the bases. After sophomore shortstop Matt Labbe took strike one (becoming the first Ranger to do so), he flared a single over the third baseman's head to score two more runs. Jeannides escaped further damage, but Greely (which forced McLain and Jeannides to throw 46 pitches) was in command.
The Eagles got a one-out single from sophomore catcher Jeffrey Lamb in the bottom half, but after McLain struck out, Stauber caught Lamb leaning the wrong way and picked him off to bring the Rangers back to the plate.
Greely got it going again in the second with two outs as Copp walked and Hart launched a bomb over the left-center field fence, striking a light pole in the process, to make it 7-0.
"He threw me a curveball," Hart said. "Off the bat, I thought I popped it up a little bit. When I was running to first, I saw that it was deeper than I thought. We were aggressive early. We were more patient at the plate. We didn't swing at bad pitches."
Howland then reached and got to second on a throwing error and scored on Labbe's RBI single.
In the bottom half, Stauber's wildness helped Lincoln Academy get back in it.
With one out, sophomore centerfielder Brandon Reilly walked. Jeannides then ripped a single to left. Junior designated hitter Christopher Chickering drew a walk to load the bases and senior second baseman Eric Morgner walked to force in a run. Stauber then bore down and struck out freshman rightfielder Stephen Quinlan, but strike three was wild and a second run came in to score. Freshman third baseman Dalton Leeman then came through by blooping a full count pitch into short left to plate two runners and make it 8-4.
Freshman Pete Stauber reached on an error to start the top of the third and was sacrificed to second by his brother, but he wasn't able to advance.
Lincoln Academy got a leadoff single from McLain and a two-out intentional walk in the bottom of the inning, but with two outs, Stauber induced sophomore pinch hitter Raymond Alden to line to Martin.
Greely extended its lead to 9-4 in the fourth. Copp led off by singling to right. Hart followed with a chopper that went over the third baseman's head, moving Copp to second. After Howland grounded out to first, Labbe hit a sacrifice fly to center to score the run.
The Eagles saw Morgner reach on an error in the bottom of the fourth, but with two outs, he was caught stealing.
The Rangers got more breathing room in the fifth. Pete Stauber singled to left, Sam Stauber beat out an infield hit that took a bad hop off McLain's glove, then with two outs, Copp ripped a double to deep right-center, scoring both runners for an 11-4 advantage.
Lincoln Academy got those runs right back in the bottom half as Lamb and McLain singled and after they moved up on a ground ball, Reilly lined a single to left to make it 11-6.
Howland led off the sixth with a home run over the scoreboard in left to make it 12-6.
"We've shown power all year," said Soule. "That's 15 home runs for the team as a whole. We've had good power throughout the lineup this year. It's nice they could showcase it today on the big stage."
The Eagles got one runner on in the bottom of the inning, but couldn't take advantage.
In the seventh, Sam Stauber singled with one out and Copp and Hart were hit by pitches with two outs. Howland followed with an infield single, Labbe did the same and senior Clay Maker was hit by a pitch to make it 15-6.
Junior Ben Russell (who earned the win against Cape Elizabeth) then came in to slam the door, but it didn't happen easily. Two walks and a single loaded the bases. Chickering drove in one run with a ground out and an error scored another, but Russell finally finished it off by striking out freshman Merritt Wotton and the Rangers were regional champions.
"I've been pretty fortunate to play on good teams," Hart said. "It's a pleasure to go to the state final."
Stauber (110 pitches) earned his ninth win of the year despite allowing six runs on six hits with four walks (he struck out six) in six innings of work.
"I'd say the first inning helped us out a lot," Stauber said. "Getting a five-run cushion like that. I started to lose my pitches in the second inning and tried to bounce back. I wasn't really nervous. I knew our offense would bounce back."
"Sam didn't have his good stuff this game, but he battled through it," Soule added. "That's his ninth win of the year. It ties Willie Doyle in '75 for most wins in a season. That's the most wins we've had since the institution of innings rules.
"We were fortunate to get a good lead. It relaxes you when you get a good lead. (Lincoln Academy) wouldn't be here two years in a row if they weren't a good club. They scored a lot of runs this year. We relaxed on defense. That was probably the only disappointing thing. The walks and extra base runners we gave up. I'm pleased with the 13 hits and 15 runs."
Labbe had three hits and five RBI to lead the offense. Copp, Hart, Howland and Sam Stauber all had two hits.
The Eagles had four pitchers throw 149 pitches. They also committed four errors. Offensively, Lincoln Academy (14-5) got two hits each from Jeannides, Lamb and McLain and two RBI apiece from Leeman and Reilly.
Title No. 4 upcoming?
Greely won Class B championships in 1997, 1999 and 2007. The Rangers have never met Gardiner, which pummeled Cape Elizabeth in last year's state final.
Stauber expects to get the start.
"It should be a good one," the ace said. "I'm on the mound again, I'm pretty sure. I can't wait."
Soule wasn't as committal.
"Everyone's available," said the coach. "We'll see how (Sam) responds. He was over 100 pitches today.
"Gardiner's a great team. They have a lot of experience. They have some really good pitching and kids with power. I'm expecting a really tough game Saturday."
"We know Gardiner's a great team," Hart added. "It should be a great game."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com