Greely gets past Yarmouth, takes Western B title
STANDISH—Through 18 games this spring and two innings of the Western Class B Final Tuesday afternoon, there wasn't an ounce of separation between the Greely and Yarmouth baseball teams.
Then, finally, in the third inning, something gave.
That something was the Clippers' ability to throw strikes.
The Rangers scored six times in the frame, with the benefit of only one hit. They added a run in the top of the sixth and needed it as Yarmouth's bats, which had been silenced by Greely junior ace Mike Leeman, finally erupted for seven successive hits and five runs in the bottom of the sixth to make things interesting.
Greely held on for the 7-5 victory at Larry Mahaney Diamond at St. Joseph's College, improved to 16-3, ended Yarmouth's season at 15-4 and set up a date with defending champion Waterville in Saturday's Class B state final Saturday at 4 p.m., back at St. Joe's.
"I was pretty nervous because I've seen playoffs turn in our favor very quickly," Greely coach Derek Soule said. "I think back to Mountain Valley in 2007 where we down 6-1 bottom of the seventh and we won. I know how quickly things can turn."
Yarmouth, which reached the regional final before losing to Cape Elizabeth a year ago, entered the 2011 season as a favorite in Western B and the Clippers didn't disappoint.
Yarmouth won its first seven games, averaging over 10 runs per victory. On May 11, the offense dried up and the Clippers were knocked from the unbeaten ranks, 10-1, at Cape Elizabeth. After holding on for a 7-5 win at Falmouth, Yarmouth's late rally fell just short in a 5-4 loss at Greely. The Clippers then won five of their final six, losing only at home to Falmouth, 9-1. Included in that span was a 6-5 home victory over Greely in game which saw Yarmouth rally from an early 5-0 deficit.
After winning the coin toss with Greely to earn the top seed, the Clippers were 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. Yarmouth had to come back Friday and play the Patriots again and this time, behind senior Chris Lawlor's heroics, the Clippers advanced with a 5-0 triumph.
Saturday, Yarmouth was poised to host Lincoln Academy in the semis, but rain began and even though the field appeared playable, again the umps pulled the plug, moving the contest to Monday afternoon. There, the Clippers were hitless for 4.2 innings before coming to life and coming from behind to beat the Eagles, 4-1.
As for Greely, it matched Yarmouth win for win. The Rangers, who dropped an agonizing extra inning decision to Cape Elizabeth in last year's semifinals, rolled past visiting Gray-New Gloucester in the opener, 7-0, then won three more games in succession by a combined score of 28-3. Greely fell from the unbeaten ranks May 2, with an 8-4, nine inning home loss to Cape Elizabeth. The Rangers then returned to their bludgeoning ways, rattling off nine successive victories, averaging 10 runs per contest in the process. Along the way, they pounded visiting Falmouth, 13-3, held off visiting Yarmouth and beat the Yachtsmen again, 9-1, in Old Orchard Beach. The string ended with a loss at the Clippers. Greely then closed the regular year with a 7-4 loss to Cape Elizabeth in Old Orchard Beach.
After being relegated to the No. 2 seed, the Rangers shot to a big lead versus No. 7 Maranacook in the quarterfinals Thursday, but as was the case with Yarmouth, the weather postponed the game and Greely had to start over Friday. There, the Rangers rolled, 9-3. Saturday, in the semis, Greely hosted No. 6 Falmouth (which did the Rangers a favor by eliminating pesky nemesis Cape Elizabeth in its quarterfinal). Greely trailed 3-1 entering the bottom of the sixth before erupting for seven runs en route to an 8-3 triumph.
The Clippers had taken two of the three previous postseason meetings from Greely, 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.
Tuesday, on an overcast, occasionally drizzly day which was far too cold for mid-June, the teams put on a show.
Yarmouth got off to a good start when senior pitcher Campbell Belisle-Haley fanned junior catcher Pete Stauber on a full count pitch. Junior third baseman Liam Maker then bounced out to third, but senior leftfielder Ben Shain drew a walk and even after Belisle-Haley appeared to pick him off, stole second. The Clippers escaped the inning with no further damage when senior shortstop Matt Labbe bounced out to second.
In the bottom of the first, junior shortstop Ryan Cody bounced out to third. Senior first baseman Dan McKersie made a nice scoop to record the out. After Belisle-Haley flew harmlessly to left, Leeman got Pierce swinging.
Belisle-Haley ran into and got out of trouble the top of the second.
After Leeman bounced out to Cody on a full count pitch, senior first baseman Dan McKersie walked, then junior second baseman Brad McKenney did the same. Belisle-Haley bounced back and fanned sophomore designated Jonah Normandeau on three pitches, but freshman rightfielder Bailey Train was hit by a pitch, leaving it up to Stauber.
Stauber got ahead in the count, 2-0, but after fouling off a pair of pitches, grounded out to first on an “excuse-me” swing, extinguishing the threat.
In the bottom half, Leeman made quick work of the Clippers, getting senior first baseman Aidan Sullivan to pop out foul to McKersie, catching senior second baseman Dustin McCrossin looking at strike three and inducing senior designated hitter Bryce Snyder to ground out to short.
Everything then fell apart for Belisle-Haley and the Clippers in the top of the third.
Maker got the outburst started with a seemingly harmless seeing-eye single up the middle.
If you told Yarmouth it wouldn't give up another hit that inning, it would have liked its chances, but as Greely demonstrated, there are many ways to fuel a rally.
Taking advantage of a wild pitcher is a start.
With Shain at the plate, Belisle-Haley threw a wild pitch. Shain then walked and Belisle-Haley wild pitched the runners up to second and third. Labbe then drew a walk to load the bases and Leeman followed with a walk to score the first run, Maker.
"They were throwing balls and we capitalized on their mistakes," Leeman said.
Halsted came out and had an animated conversation with Belisle-Haley, but it didn't help.
McKersie was next and he too drew a walk, scoring Shain.
Belisle-Haley then hit McKenney, scoring Labbe to make it 3-0, ending the pitcher's afternoon.
That brought in Lawlor, the hero of the quarterfinal victory. He immediately walked Normandeau and Leeman came home with the fourth run. Train then became the first hitter in seven batters to make contact, grounding out to second, but McKersie scored on the play. After Stauber was intentionally walked to reload the bases, Lawlor appeared to get a break when he fanned Maker, but Shain was hit by a pitch, scoring McKenney.
Labbe finally ended the 12-hitter frame by grounding out to short, but Greely had scored six times on a mere hit, while taking advantage of five Yarmouth walks, three hit batsmen and two wild pitches.
"I had a little dribber up the middle to get it going and the fans got behind us," Maker said. "We took advantage. We've seen (Belisle-Haley) once before. He came on in relief at Yarmouth and threw five shutout innings. We thought we could get him this time and we did."
"We have a good hitting team, but you have to take what they're giving you," Soule said. "If they're not throwing strikes, we'll take it."
Despite the nightmare half-inning, Yarmouth didn't wilt.
"That third inning was rough, but as soon as Lawlor got the last out, our bench was fired up, high energy, ready to compete," said Clippers coach Marc Halsted.
The Clippers got their first baserunner when senior third baseman Joey King drew a walk off Leeman (the pitcher was predictably a little wild after sitting for 35 minutes), but senior catcher Nick Proscia fanned, junior rightfielder Eamon Costello lined out to left and Cody flew out to right.
Lawlor settled down in the top of the fourth, retiring the first two hitters before McKenney laced a single to left-center. Normandeau ended it with a ground ball to short.
In the bottom half, Belisle-Haley led off and lined out to a running Jimmy Whitaker in center.
"Today, the wind was blowing hard," Soule said. "It was cold. We were fortunate on a couple rockets Yarmouth hit. Whitaker was able to make running catches. Those are extra base hits on a normal day."
Pierce popped to Maker at third and Sullivan walked before McCrossin bounced harmlessly to short.
Maker beat out a bunt single with two down in the top of the fifth. Senior Sean Ross pinch-ran and stole second, but Shain grounded out to second.
Yarmouth got its leadoff hitter on in the bottom half as Snyder hit a ground ball to Labbe, who bobbled it before the throw and Snyder was safe. The no-hitter was still intact and Leeman fanned King and Proscia and got Costello looking.
Labbe led off the top of the sixth with a bloop to center of which Pierce made a nice running, sliding catch. Leeman beat out a bunt for a single and stole second. McKersie lined to Costello in right before McKenney doubled down the rightfield line to score Leeman, making it 7-0.
Entering the bottom of the sixth, the seemingly only remaining drama revolved around Yarmouth trying to get a hit. Any thoughts of a comeback appeared improbable at best.
Yet Cody led off and put an end to Leeman's gem with a double down the rightfield line and the fun was just beginning.
Belisle-Haley followed with a wicked shot at the shortstop, which took a bad hop and bounced off Labbe for a hit to put runners at the corners for Pierce. Pierce smashed a ringing double to right-center, scoring Cody and moving Belisle-Haley to third. Sullivan followed with a hard hit ball to the right of Labbe. The shortstop was able to knock the ball down for a single, scoring Belisle-Haley. McCrossin kept the good times rolling with a single to left, scoring Pierce, cutting the deficit to 7-3. The runners moved up on the throw.
"Our recent motto is to finish strong," Pierce said. "We knew it wasn't a 7-0 game. It sparked with Ryan's single. It was so impressive to see Campbell battle back. We're a good hitting ballclub. Even in the third, fourth inning in the dugout, we never gave up. Everyone kept a positive attitude. The best way when you're down to pick yourself up is to pick someone else up and we did that as a team today. We were down 5-0 last time we played Greely and were able to rally back. It's all about trusting each other and that we can do it."
Snyder followed and drilled a base hit to left, scoring Sullivan, but senior pinch-runner Davis Brown was gunned down at third in a call the Yarmouth side didn't agree with. King then bunted for a hit and Stauber's throw was off the mark, sending Snyder to third. Junior pinch-hitter Max Grimm then flew harmlessly to right, but the ball was mishandled, allowing Snyder to score the fifth run. King was thrown out at second on the play.
"Those were two huge plays," said Soule, alluding to the outs on the bases. "One was close enough where it was 50-50 either way. We were lucky we were the beneficiary of that. I inserted a guy (junior Will McAdoo) cold into rightfield so I could get Train warm. That's a tough play off the bench, coming full speed for that shallow fly ball. Luckily, he had the wits about himself to throw it to second. Those two plays, sometimes it's better to be lucky."
Costello then struck out to end it, but just like that, the Clippers had gone from no hits to seven and from no runs to five and suddenly were very much in the game.
Lawlor completed his stellar relief effort by retiring the Rangers in order in the top of the seventh and Yarmouth had a chance to complete a miracle rally.
It wasn't to be.
Leeman remained on the mound and got the job done.
King led off and grounded out to McKenney, a huge out with the Clippers' thunder up next. Belisle-Haley doubled to left-center, but Pierce grounded out to short, setting the stage for Sullivan. Sullivan hit a sharp ground ball to the left of Maker, but Maker grabbed the ball, turned and threw out the runner to give Greely a 7-5 win and its third regional crown in five seasons.
"It wasn't an easy play," Maker said, of the final out. "I was deciding to go forward or back. I got it there and Dan made a nice stretch at first. It was an awesome feeling. A lot of hard work in the offseason did it. A lot of kids play AAU. We were motivated. We knew (Yarmouth would) make it a game. They always do. They battle. I don't think (Mike) ran out of gas. A couple errors happened, but he battled. He knows what he's doing out there."
Leeman improved to 6-1 by surrendering five runs (four earned) on eight hits and two walks. He struck out seven and hung tough all the way through the final out.
"I tried my hardest," Leeman said. "I give them props for coming back and battling. They caught up to my fastball and were hitting me good at the end."
"(Mike's) an emotional kid," Soule said. "Sometimes he's been hurt by his emotions. Sometimes it fuels him. Today, he kept his composure pretty well."
Offensively, Maker and McKenney were multiple hitters. McKenney also doubled, scored and drove in a pair of runs. Leeman, McKersie, Normandeau, Shain and Train all had one RBI. Leeman scored twice, Labbe, Maker, McKenney, McKersie and Shain once. Leeman, Ross and Shain had stolen bases.
Belisle-Haley hadn't surrendered a run all season entering the game, but fell to 2-1 after giving up six on just one hit in two-plus innings. He walked six, hit three batters and threw two wild pitches. He struck out one.
"It's irrelevant because we're nowhere close to this field without Campbell Haley," said Halsted. "He had 'the' at-bat yesterday (which led to the tying run and sparked a come-from-behind win over Lincoln). One of the best at-bats I've ever seen in high school baseball. We're not here without him having 40 hits the past two seasons. He didn't give up a run coming into today. He's one of the great leaders, one of the great fighters I've ever been around. I love him like a son. He's unbelievable."
Lawlor was sold in relief, giving up just one run on four hits in five innings. He walked two, fanned three and hit a batter.
"Chris gave up 15 runs in Florida in three innings, but he came out and went 4-1 this year and put us in a situation to win this game," Halsted said. "He did a great job. (Greely) didn't hit our pitching at all today. Other than that third inning, they didn't touch us."
The offense was spearheaded by Belisle-Haley's two hits, including a double. He also scored a run. Cody (double), King, McCrossin, Pierce (double), Snyder and Sullivan all had hits. Cody, Pierce, Snyder and Sullivan joined Belisle-Haley in touching home plate. RBIs came from McCrossin, Pierce, Snyder and Sullivan.
"That sixth inning was fantastic," Halsted said. "We had passion, high energy. We ripped. Even in the seventh inning, we hit the ball hard. Campbell could have just faded away today, but he lined that ball in the gap for a double, brought up the tying run. We hit the ball hard, it just didn't happen."
Yarmouth ended regional runners-up for the second straight season and have plenty to be proud of.
"It's tough to go out, but as seniors, we should feel proud of what we created with this program," Pierce said. "I'm very proud of the season. The coaching staff has been unbelievable. It's been a real privilege to play for them as an athlete."
"Five years ago, this was a quiet, passive program," Halsted added. "A bunch of good kids, but not a team that would win 15 games a year. We've won 32 games in two seasons and have 10 seniors who have been a part of it. Chan Arndt and Andrew Totta made this program legit. These kids have made it elite.
"We love being the underdog. We don't have the nicest bats. Our field's beat to hell. Our equipment is beat up, but we don't care. These kids just love to play baseball. It's really easy to talk about Pierce and Haley and Sullivan, but you have kids like Davis Brown, Joey King and Nick Proscia, they're the backbone. Joey played a great third base for us the past three weeks. Davis Brown didn't make a single error in over 35 chances as our defensive replacement at second base. Nick was an all-state middle linebacker and that's how he plays catcher."
Yarmouth will miss its 10 seniors and many standouts, but the next generation hopes to keep the good times rolling in 2012.
"We won't quit," Halsted said. "That's why we run summer programs and go to Florida. We expect to get back here next year. That's Yarmouth baseball now. We have kids who will battle, even down 7-0. That's who we are. We never give in. It's awesome."
The team that many thought was a year away has arrived as the Rangers have won 16 of 19 games and are the best in Western Class B.
"I think the key was the first year players who had big years," Soule said. "They stepped up and played really well. I don't care how good you are, there's usually an adjustment period. Most of those guys had a small adjustment period. They contributed. Guys like freshman Bailey Train, sophomore Jonah Normandeau. Junior Liam Maker is a first-team all-conference in his first year. The veterans played like veterans. Guys like Pete Stauber, Mike Leeman, Ben Shain, Matt Labbe."
Next up for Greely is Eastern B champion Waterville (16-2), the defending state champion.
The teams have no history.
"We want to win a championship," Maker said. "We're going to do our best. We'll be loud. We'll be prepared. We'll come out ready to go."
"We're a team," said Leeman, who added he expects to get the ball as the starter Saturday. "Our pitching and defense are strong. The batting's coming along. It should be interesting. It's exciting. We're all pumped for it."
Soule said he's unfamiliar with the Purple Panthers and that he wasn't sure if Leeman would get the nod.
"I know (Waterville has) a couple very strong players, but other than that, I don't know a lot about them," Soule said. "I don't know (if Mike will start). We have to see how his arm bounces back. He was cruising into the sixth. His pitch count was in the low 60s. He'll ice his arm and we'll see on Thursday how sore he is."