Capers beat Rangers again in baseball regular season finale
Wednesday was a classic day for baseball at Cape Elizabeth, there's just no other way to put it.
The sun was shining, the trademark Cape wind was blowing straight in, and two of the most intense rivals in Western Class B were on display with the Greely Rangers in town.
With the scene set, this regular season finale did not disappoint. Both squads knew first place was on the line, as the Rangers entered the day at second in the Heal Points with a 12-3 record and the Capers were just a few points behind in third with an 11-4 mark. Mountain Valley held the No. 1 spot with a 12-1 record.
But at the day's end, it was Cape Eliizabeth which would walk away with the top seed, as the Capers defeated Greely 8-3 in a seesaw battle.
Because both Cape Elizabeth and Greely had played games earlier in the week, neither squad was using their ace pitcher. Instead, it was freshman Mike Leeman making his second career varsity start for Greely against junior crafty lefty Conor Moloney. Both hurlers performed extraordinarily well despite throwing a mass amount of pitches to disciplined batters while dealing with some fielding miscues.
Cape Elizabeth wasted absolutely no time getting on the board in the first inning. Senior centerfielder and co-captain leadoff hitter Zach Breed reached on a fielding error by Rangers shortstop Sam Stauber. A few pickoff attempts later, Leeman balked to advance Breed. Junior Kyle Piscopo followed with a walk, and then dangerous senior Andrew Guay popped up to catcher Ryan Howland. Sophomore designated hitter Robert MacDonald stepped to the dish and watched Breed and Poscopo move up after a pitch squirted away from Howland. He then proceeded to hit a hard ball through the legs of first baseman Pat Copp to plate Breed. With a first and third situation at hand, the double steal worked as second baseman Leo Paquette's cut-off throw to home was late and the Capers were up 2-0, both runs unearned, after one inning.
Not to be silenced for long, the Rangers came alive in the third. Paquette drew a one out walk and quickly scored when senior Nate Martin followed with a scorching line drive triple over right fielder Ryan Boyington's head. Next up was cleanup hitter Copp, who hit a groundout to short, which easily scored Martin to tie the game at 2-2.
The bottom of the third looked to be another scoring frame for the Capers, as Guay lead off with a liner to center and MacDonald drew a walk. Junior first baseman Will Pierce then laid down what appeared to be a picture perfect bunt down the third baseline, but Greely senior third baseman Kevin Hart made a great heads up play and let it roll just inches foul. Hart's quick decision proved to be extremely key, as Pierce then popped up to the pitcher and junior Tanner Garrity popped up to short for an infield fly. Boyington walked to load the bases up with two outs, but junior catcher Ezra Wolfinger lined out to center to keep the contest tied. Runners were being stranded left and right throughout the game, as the Capers left the bases loaded in this inning, and two earlier in the second.
The fourth inning was uneventful, but the fifth was a wacky one.
In the top half, senior shortstop (also Greely's ace with a 7-2 record) Sam Stauber sent an 0-2 curveball through the left side hole to get things going. Paquette then drew another walk, bringing the slugging Martin to the plate. Moloney must have had some four leaf clovers and a rabbit's foot stashed in his pocket because the ensuing play involved more than just a little luck. Martin absolutely tattooed a pitch right back up the box and the ball miraculously deflected 100 percent off Moloney's glove and dribbled off to the side. Not only did he manage to avoid an immensely painful injury, but he was alert enough to recover the ball and toss it to third to nail the lead runner. Copp then hit a chopper to third which ricocheted off Garrity but stayed close to the infield, thus loading the bases with one out. Senior Josh Bilodeau, who entered as a pinch runner for Paquette, raced home on a sacrifice fly to right by Hart, on which Martin also advanced to third. Another pinch runner, junior Matti Ingraham, was in for Copp and it was a first and third with two outs situation. However, it was the usually elite base running Martin who made a blunder by biting on Maloney's fake pickoff to first base. That caught the speedster in a rundown and the Capers tagged him out to end the frame, but Greely had momentarily gained the lead, 3-2.
The resilient Capers came right back out in their half of the inning to make some noise, however.
Guay led off with a fly out, but the next three batters: MacDonald, Pierce, and Garrity, all proceeded to walk and score. After the walk to Garrity, Howland went out to chat with Leeman, which gave Boyington the chance to talk over some strategy with his head coach down at third.
With the bases loaded and one out, Greely was playing corners even and double play depth up the middle. Third-year coach Chris Hayward had a brilliant trick up his sleeve. Boyington executed a squeeze by shooting a hard bunt towards first which easily scored MacDonald. Copp fielded it, but was caught off guard as Leeman came over to help on the base coverage. While trying to decide whether to tag the base, flip it to Leeman, or tag the runner himself, Copp barely made the play and applied the tag on Boyington to record the out. The real damage came when both Copp and Leeman were unaware that Pierce (who was on second base) was racing home full steam. By the time Greely knew what hit them, Pierce crossed home and was celebrating the success of the trickery with his teammates. The rare and clever play gave Cape a 4-3 lead.
"We kept leaving men on base," Hayward said. "We finally cracked through with that squeeze. We practice that and execute it well in practice."
But the Capers weren't done.
Wolfinger followed Boyington's bunt with a walk to put runners on first and second. It's pretty standard that walks will kill you in some way, shape, or form. Four in one inning by Leeman were certainly a recipe for disaster. After Wolfinger's free pass, Leeman was pulled and junior Jacob Whiting-Kooy entered from the bullpen. Leeman went 4 2/3 innings with seven walks, one strikeout, and allowed just three singles, but was charged with six runs (four earned). Leeman actually pitched quite well overall, especially for a freshman thrown into the tough Cape Elizabeth-Greely rivalry. The walks were devastating and his curveball wasn't very sharp this particular day, but if he had just a bit more command of his pitches and some more control, there could have easily been a different outcome.
"I think for a freshman making his second start, Mike Leeman did a great job," said longtime Greely coach Derek Soule. "Two unearned runs in the first inning. We had the lead in the fifth. Not much more I can ask for a freshman making his second career start."
The Rangers needed to get just one more out to end the inning, the bleeding, and the "cheap" runs. But before Whiting-Kooy even threw a pitch to pinch hitter Kyle Danielson, he balked, setting up second and third with two outs. Danielson worked a full count then dinked a blooper which dropped in shallow left-center field between Stauber and junior leftfielder Ben Russell and just like that, it was 6-3 Cape Elizabeth.
Those two inherited runners' runs were charged to Leeman. Had one of the fielders stepped up and taken charge, the ball could have been caught. Four runs were scored by Cape in the inning without the benefit of a legitimate hit. But hey, a run is a run, no matter how you get it.
"We've given up way too many unearned runs all year long," Soule said. "We're capable of playing good defense. We're too tentative sometimes, and that hurts us."
The Capers were hungry for more insurance runs in the sixth as they knew the high caliber Greely offense could explode at any time. This time, they chose to use a more conventional method of scoring, like an RBI extra base hit. Guay blasted a line shot triple over Russell's head in left to score Piscopo. MacDonald then drew his third walk of the game which set up a first-and-third no outs situation. Whiting-Kooy then decided to try the ol' fake to third and throw to first, but his throw to Copp was in the dirt and went out of play. It was another unearned run to make it 8-3.
Moloney went the distance for Cape, as he was locked in the entire game keeping the Rangers off balance with curves and methodical approaches to at-bats. He allowed just three runs while scattering six hits, walking three (one was intentional to Copp in the first inning), and striking out two. Not too shabby for a " No. 3" pitcher. Moloney actually pitched a one-hitter in the 2008 playoffs against Maranacook, so his success is becoming less and less surprising.
"I was just trying to be consistent the whole game," Moloney said. "Trying to throw strikes, and keep it away from the middle hitters. The first five is a great crew of hitters."
Both coaches acknowledged Moloney as a true battler. And how could you not after seeing him topple one of the stronger offenses around in a complete game performance.
While it was not the cleanest or sharpest game by any means, it certainly was a taste of a potential postseason match up. Greely isn't lamenting too much over the loss, though. With a bit of fine tuning to the defense, the Rangers are confident going into the playoffs where literally anything can happen.
"We can beat anybody, it's wide open," Soule simply stated.
The official Heal Points are to be released sometime Friday after other teams finish up their regular season games Thursday.
The Capers swept the season series with the Rangers, as they also won on May 11th at Greely by a score of 5-1. Last year, Cape Elizabeth had the No. 9 seed going into the tournament, but got hot at the right time and advanced all the way to the state game before losing to Gardiner. Now they will undoubtedly have the No. 1 seed.
2007 was Greely's year, as the Rangers had the No. 2 seed and ran the table winning states. 2008 was Cape's as they had a Cinderella postseason.
So whose year is 2009?
"It's such a strong league that anybody can beat anybody," Hayward said. "We know that. We lost to Poland, and they're not going to make the playoffs. We've got to bring our best game or we're going to be going home."
Both teams will open postseason play at home in the quarterfinals next Thursday.