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Clippers rally to beat Lincoln Academy, Greely next

Sports

Clippers rally to beat Lincoln Academy, Greely next

YARMOUTH—The Yarmouth baseball team simply refused to go home.

With its season on the line, facing a standout pitcher at the top of his game, the Clippers were on the ropes in a Western Class B semifinal round playoff contest Monday afternoon against visiting Lincoln Academy.

Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning, without a hit to that point, No. 1 Yarmouth got a huge break on a two-out error, then tied the score as a superb at-bat from senior Campbell Belisle-Haley led to a double and another error, which tied the score.

After senior Aidan Sullivan set down the fourth-ranked Eagles in the top of the sixth, senior Bryce Snyder singled home the go-ahead run in the bottom half and the Clippers added two more as they went on to a 4-1 victory, which raised their record to 15-3 and set up a regional final showdown with rival Greely Tuesday at 3 p.m. at St. Joseph's College in Standish.

"We have 10 seniors who refused to walk off this field for the last time without a victory," said Yarmouth coach Marc Halsted. "That's a great example of mental toughness."

Determination

The Yarmouth program has experienced a rebirth under Halsted and is in the midst of its finest run since winning consecutive Class C titles in the mid-1990s.

Last year, the Clippers reached the regional final before losing to Cape Elizabeth. This spring, the senior-oriented team came in as the favorite and has lived up to billing, losing only at Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth and Greely during a 13-3 regular season. Yarmouth edged the visiting Rangers late in the year and the rivals wound up tied atop the Western B Heal Points standings. A coin toss to determine the top seed ensued and the Clippers won.

Yarmouth was supposed to open the playoffs Thursday at home versus No. 8 Gray-New Gloucester, but despite holding a 6-1 lead in the fourth, after a long thunder and lightning delay and even though a softball game on an adjacent field was resumed, the umpiring crew postponed the contest. The Clippers had to come back Friday and play the Patriots again and this time, behind senior Chris Lawlor's heroics, Yarmouth advanced with a 5-0 triumph.

Saturday, the Clippers were poised to host Lincoln Academy (which downed Wells, 3-1, in its quarterfinal), but rain began and even though the field appeared playable, again the umps pulled the plug, moving the contest to Monday afternoon.

While Yarmouth wasn't happy with the delays, the Clippers had the right attitude.

"Both Thursday and Saturday were tough for us since we were ready to play," Belisle-Haley said. "We were jacked up, there two hours early. It was anticlimactic to have the games canceled. We knew we had to overcome adversity to be where we want to be so if rain's all we have to overcome, so be it."

"It was frustrating and I'll admit I got angry, but our attitude had to be, 'That's life' and, 'Adversity makes us stronger,'" Halsted said. "This team is strong."

Yarmouth and Lincoln have their share of recent postseason history. Three years ago, the Eagles eliminated the Clippers in the semifinals, 5-4. Last spring, in the semis, Yarmouth advanced, 6-2.

Monday's game featured four players who had been involved in both prior matchups, Yarmouth's Belisle-Haley and centerfielder Luke Pierce and Lincoln Academy pitcher Brandon Reilly and catcher Jeff Lamb.

The Clippers would have their hands full with Reilly most of the way Monday, but eventually got the job done.

Sullivan allowed an infield single to Reilly in the top of the first, but retired Lamb on a ground ball to first.

In the bottom of the frame, Pierce was hit by a pitch with two down and went to second on a wild pitch, but Sullivan took a called third strike.

Sullivan retired the Eagles in order in the top of the second. In the bottom half, senior second baseman Dustin McCrossin drew a walk to lead off, but Reilly struck out Snyder looking and induced junior first baseman Max Grimm to hit into a double play.

Lincoln Academy threatened in the third. Designated hitter Mardy Alden led off and was hit with an 0-2 pitch. Two outs later, he stole second, but rightfielder Alex Cosgrove fanned to end the threat.

Reilly walked senior catcher Nick Proscia with one out in the bottom half and junior  shortstop Ryan Cody reached on a fielder's choiice, but Belisle-Haley hit into a pitcher-to-third forceout and Pierce struck out to keep the game scoreless.

The visitors then broke through in the top of the fourth.

After Reilly just missed a home run on a deep flyout to right, Lamb walked and moved to second on a wild pitch. With two down, first baseman Kyle Scherer blooped a hit to centerfield that Pierce couldn't catch and Lamb raced home for a 1-0 advantage.

Reilly worked out of trouble in the bottom of the frame.

Sullivan walked to lead off and was pinch-run for by senior Matt Guiney. McCrossin sacrificed Guiney into scoring position, but Snyder struck out and Grimm was out after his sharp liner to right was snared by Cosgrove.

Sullivan bore down in the fifth, fanning the side and in the bottom half, Yarmouth drew even with a little help from the Eagles.

Reilly extended his no-hit bid by striking out senior third baseman Joey King and getting Proscia to pop out foul to Lamb. Cody then followed with a routine ground ball to Bo McLain at second. McLain fielded the ball cleanly, then dropped it and his throw was late.

The Clippers had life.

That brought up Belisle-Haley who crushed a deep foul ball down the rightfield line. Several pitches later, Belisle-Haley punched a hit down the leftfield line for a double. Cody was going to stop at third, but leftfielder Everett Martin mishandled the ball, allowing Cody to score to make it 1-1.

"(Reilly's) obviously a terrific pitcher," said Belisle-Haley. "He's dominated everyone, including us the first few innings. We knew we had to battle like we have to battle against some of the better pitchers in our league. We knew we had to manufacture runs, do it any way possible.

"I was trying to be short and quick to the ball and hit it up the middle. It was a fortunate situation for us. I was glad I had the opportunity. I had to just look away and pretend (the near miss on the long foul ball) didn't happen the rest of the at-bat. I had so much confidence once we tied it up, once we didn't have that seemingly insurmountable one run. I knew we had the toughness and grit to put it out."

Pierce flew out to center to keep the game tied, but Sullivan induced three ground ball outs in the top of the sixth to give the offense another chance.

In the bottom of the sixth, Yarmouth struck again.

Sullivan helped himself by leading off with a single to right. When Cosgrove overran the ball, Sullivan took second. After McCrossin struck out, Snyder had his turn and he came through with a base hit to right-center, which chased home Sullivan with the go-ahead run.

"I was just looking for a fastball early in the count and he gave it to me and I took a swing," Snyder said. "He's definitely one of the best pitchers I've ever seen and it seems like he kept his stamina up the entire game."

Snyder was replaced by sophomore pinch-runner Caleb Uhl, who promptly stole third, then scored on Grimm's single to center. Grimm took second on the throw and stole third. One out later, after a walk to Proscia, Cody came through with an RBI single to center, making it 4-1, chasing Reilly in the process.

Belisle-Haley would fan against Cosgrove, the new pitcher, but the damage was done and Yarmouth was just three outs from victory.

"It's never over, but we have all the confidence in the world in our pitchers, so we didn't have a doubt in our mind," said Snyder.

While the Clippers had gotten a few breaks, Halsted put them in perspective.

"We've had back-to-back rainouts where both games could have been played," Halsted said. "We've faced No. 1 pitchers twice, we'll face the No. 1 pitcher tomorrow and if we're fortunate enough to win, we'll face the No. 1 on Saturday. We're getting no breaks, so I'll call it even."

In the top of the seventh, Sullivan got centerfielder Merritt Wotton to pop foul to first and Scherer to pop foul to Proscia behind the plate. After Martin worked a full-count walk, Sullivan caught Alden looking at strike three and that was all she wrote.

"That was classic Yarmouth baseball," Halsted said. "We did a lot of little things that I love. What was best was that our approach at the plate was short and quick to the ball. Everybody knows Reilly's a fantastic pitcher. He throws 83, 84. We don't see pitching like that except in (the preseason in Florida). He's a pretty impressive pitcher. I told the guys, I'm very much a realist and I thought he was cruising, but we grinded out at-bats. Campbell's at-bat was remarkable, to fight it off and fight it off and then go the other way, inside-out, short and quick. Max and Bryce had fantastic approaches at the plate."

Sullivan allowed just two hits and two walks to go along with a hit batsman in his seven-inning, one-run performance. He struck out nine and improved to 5-1 on the season.

"We knew coming in that they're a good team and that I had to keep them off-balance with a changeup and curveball and back it up by locating the fastball," Sullivan said. "Proscia called a great game behind the plate. With a couple timely hits, it was a great team effort. I felt good on the mound. I knew I had to hit my spots. If I left it up, I knew they'd bang it. It was a good win. It's always nervewracking, but we knew we had to grind and hit the ball hard up the middle. It worked out for us."

"Aidan's unbelievable," said Belisle-Haley. "You wouldn't know it by talking to him, but he's an unbelievable competitor. He wants the ball in his hand and compete and that's what he did today."

"Our pitcher wasn't going to lose today," Halsted added. "Aidan got more and more confident and maintained his mechanics. Getting ahead with the change helped him today. That was good execution. Nick had three strikeout assists. He had three or four dirtballs when it really mattered. He's a senior, state champion football player who refused to leave the field without a win."

Offensively, Yarmouth didn't have a multiiple hitter, but its patience paid big dividends.

Cody, Grimm, Sullivan and Uhl scored the runs. Cody, Grimm and Snyder had RBIs. Grimm and Uhl had stolen bases.

For Lincoln Academy, Reilly suffered his first loss of the year, against seven wins, as he gave up four runs (three earned) on five hits and four walks in 5.2 innings. Reilly struck out seven, but hit a batter and threw a wild pitch. Cosgrove retired the only batter he faced.

Reilly (infield single) and Scherer (bloop single) had the Eagles' lone hits. Lamb scored the run. Scherer had the RBI. Alden had a stolen base.

Showdown

For the second year in a row, the Clippers are one of the final two teams standing in the region, a remarkable accomplishment considering how far the program has come.

"When I got here it wasn't a bright and shining program," Halsted said. "It's been a community effort. Great Little League programs. Good people involved at the younger level. We do a lot of work in the summertime. I'm so proud of these seniors. They're the example of kids who stuck with it. (Andrew) Totta and (Chan) Arndt got the program back to a competitive level. Haley, Pierce and Sullivan have made us a team that wins 15 or 16 games a year."

Yarmouth won't have much time to celebrate its win as No. 2 Greely (15-3) awaits in Tuesday's regional final.

On May 17, the Clippers lost at the Rangers, 5-4. Ten days later, Yarmouth rallied from an early 5-0 deficit to beat visiting Greely, 6-5.

The Clippers have taken two of the three previous postseason meetings, winning in the 2002 preliminary round (8-5, in eight innings) and the 2008 quarterfinals (9-2). The Rangers were triumphant in the 2006 quarterfinals, 12-2, in six innings.

Yarmouth will throw Belisle-Haley, while Greely will counter with its ace, junior Mike Leeman.

"Obviously, our ultimate goal is a state championship, but we want to compete at our highest level," Belisle-Haley said. "(The two regular season games) were two of our most competitive. It's a little different with Greely. Three years ago, we were able to take them down. Every year I've been in high school, they have an incredible team. We have so much respect for them. We know it will be a grind tomorrow. I'm ready to go."

The Clippers expect a battle, but enter the game confident.

"It's huge to get back (to the regional final)," said Snyder. "We had a disappointing loss last year, but we're ready to go. We're looking to come strong."

"It'll be a battle, no doubt," Sullivan said. "They're a great team. They have a great pitcher on the mound and their lineup's tough, but if we battle like we did today, I hope we'll come out on top. Our motto is to finish strong. That's what we're trying to do."

"Greely's got the advantage with Leeman on the mound," Halsed said. "He's excellent. (Junior Pete) Stauber is the best catcher in league, but our kids won't back down one foot. We'll go with Haley tomorrow and everyone else is available except for 'Tall Boy' Sullivan."

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