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Greely baseball wins semifinal thriller; NYA, Yarmouth sent packing in quarterfinals

Sports

Greely baseball wins semifinal thriller; NYA, Yarmouth sent packing in quarterfinals

The Greely baseball team added another inspirational chapter to its storied history Saturday afternoon at Cape Elizabeth.

The Rangers couldn't even muster a hit into the seventh inning, but somehow found a way to outlast the top-ranked and defending regional champion Capers, 1-0, in 10 innings.

The win sent Greely to the Western B Final Tuesday (too late for print, see Web site for game story) to meet No. 3 Lincoln Academy at St. Joseph's College.

The two other local qualifiers, North Yarmouth Academy and Yarmouth, weren't able to get out of the quarterfinal round.

Getting it done

Entering the season, many weren't sure what to make of the Rangers, but as always, Greely excelled this spring, going 12-4 to earn the No. 4 seed. After a 6-1 home win over No. 5 York in the quarterfinals last Wednesday (sparked by three hits from senior Kevin Hart and a stellar pitching effort from senior Sam Stauber), the Rangers went to Cape Elizabeth Saturday, hoping to avenge two regular season losses to the Capers (5-1 at home May 11 and 8-3 on the road June 3). Two years after their storybook six-run semifinal rally to beat Mountain Valley, Greely provided another batch of thrills in that round.

The Rangers once again called on freshman Mike Leeman, who started 10 days earlier on the exact same mound and suffered a loss.

"I know what I did wrong last time out," said Leeman. "I wasn't bringing my shoulder down on my curveball. I just practiced a lot before. I didn't want to let my team down so I pitched my hardest."

This time around, his curveball was super sharp, and his performance was nothing short of phenomenal, as he pitched all the way into the eighth inning before being relieved by junior Ben Russell. Leeman's pitching line read: seven innings, just four singles, one walk, one hit batter, and five strikeouts. But he received a no decision for his effort.

As stellar as Leeman was, the Capers might have gotten an even better outing from its starter. Senior Ryan Boyington took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and went all 10 frames, yet took the crushing loss.

The first seven innings took just over an hour. The Rangers knew they had to step it up on defense and that's exactly what they did.

"It was a nice time to play one of our best defensive games," said Greely coach Derek Soule. "We had only one shutout going into the playoffs. We've had 20 over the previous three years. To shutout Cape for 10 innings, I would have never dreamt it."

The 10th inning was the only scoring frame, and it was a strange sequence at that. Senior centerfielder Martin led things off with a hit past third base. Next was senior first baseman Pat Copp, who grounded the first pitch to third. The third baseman threw to second base in an attempt to nail the lead runner, but the plan backfired immensely as the throw sailed well out of the reach of the leaping second baseman, allowing Martin to grab third. If that wasn't bad enough, the throw back in from the outfield was off the mark and Copp scampered up to second, setting up a prime scoring situation for Greely.

Hart was then promptly sent to first via intentional walk to load the bases and draw the infield in. Senior catcher Ryan Howland stepped to the dish eager for a go-ahead base knock. Perhaps overanxious, he grounded Boyington's first pitch to the shortstop who fired home to get the lead runner. Next up was sophomore designated hitter Matt Labbe. After a fouling off a squeeze attempt, Labbe sent an 0-2 fastball back up the middle past Rand and junior Matti Ingraham (pinch running for Copp) ran 90 feet to score the lone run. Hart also tried to score on the hit, but senior centerfielder Zach Breed threw him out. Pinch hitter junior Jake Whiting-Kooy then struck out looking to end the frame, but the damage was done.

"I just tried to stay relaxed and stay back," said Labbe, the offensive hero of the day. "We've been working on staying back and going opposite field and up the middle, and just make good contact. Cape's pitcher threw a lot of off speed and curveballs and we had trouble staying back at first."

Russell, who entered the game in the top of the eighth and got out of a jam, closed the door.

"Warming up I was nervous," said Russell (who earned the win going three innings with two walks, two strikeouts). "First couple pitches I was nervous, then I settled down when I threw my first strike. Teammates were rallying from the bench."

The third time was indeed the charm.

"The most important game is always game three when you're talking about our rivals who we play twice a year (regular season)," said Soule. "I think we just wanted it more."

Greely now (14-4) and Lincoln Academy (14-4) don't play in the regular season. The last playoff meeting between the schools came in 2004, when Greely won 11-0 (in six innings) in the semifinals. The squads also met in the 1994 regional final (with the Rangers prevailing, 8-3).

Getting the start will be Stauber, Greely's veteran ace. Although Lincoln Academy was somewhat of a mystery to Greely, the Rangers couldn't have asked for much more momentum after Saturday's extra inning triumph.

The winner Tuesday will return to St. Joe's Saturday at 5 p.m., to meet either defending champion Gardiner (16-2) or Waterville (16-3) in the Class B state final.

Close calls

Yarmouth was expected to be a top contender in Western B, but had an up-and-down 8-8 regular season, which left it seventh in the region. The Clippers did dispatch No. 10 Gray-New Gloucester 7-2 in the preliminary round last Wednesday (sophomore Luke Pierce homered and junior Nick Whittaker earned the victory), but their hopes of upsetting No. 2 Mountain Valley for the second straight season in the quarterfinals were dashed with an 8-7 loss in Rumford last Thursday. Yarmouth had its chances, but couldn't capture the back-and-forth contest as its season ended at 9-9.

In Western C, NYA surprised to the tune of 11-5 and the No. 7 seed. Last Wednesday, in the preliminary round, junior Dean Darien fired a no-hitter and a five-run bottom of the fifth put the finishing touches on a 10-0 (five inning) win over visiting No. 10 Madison. The Panthers' run finally ended the following day in the quarterfinals with a hard-fought 5-4 loss at No. 2 Hall-Dale.  NYA finished 12-6, its best Class C season to date, but with plenty of talent returning in 2010, will look to advance even deeper.

Ryan Robb contributed to this story.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net.