Falcons win prelim, party like it's 1985

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Freeport’s baseball team celebrates Tuesday’s 5-1 win over Morse in the Class B South preliminary round, the Falcons’ first playoff victory since 1985. 

Chris Lambert photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Freeport 5 Morse 1

M- 010 000 0- 1 3 5
F- 011 030 x- 5 8 2

Top 2nd
True scored on throwing error.

Bottom 2nd
Josh Burke homered to left-center, Burke scored.

Bottom 3rd
Wagner homered to right-center, Wagner scored.

Bottom 5th
Shea reached on infield single, Joey Burke scored. Hight singled to left, Davenport and Wagner scored. 

Repeat hitter:
F- Hight

Runs:
M- True
F- Wagner 2, Joey Burke, Josh Burke, Davenport

RBI:
F- Hight 2, Josh Burke, Shea, Wagner

Home runs:
F- Josh Burke, Wagner

Left on base:
M- 4
F- 9

Nygaard, Warren (6) and Shaw; Josh Burke and Wagner

M:
Nygaard (L, 2-2) 5.2 IP 8 H 5 R 5 ER 4 BB 3 K 1 WP
Warren 0.1 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 1 K 

F:
Josh Burke (W, 3-1) 7 IP 3 H 1 R 0 ER 0 BB 3 K 1 WP 

Time: 1:25

FREEPORT—Predicted bad weather never made it to Freeport High School Tuesday afternoon, but Falcons sophomore Josh Burke brought the thunder and the lightning regardless in a Class B South preliminary round contest against Morse.

And as a result, he and his teammates continued a magical season and produced a win three-plus decades in the making.

Burke, who pitched Freeport to huge regular season wins over Greely and York, got the nod on the mound instead of senior ace Jack Davenport and rose to the occasion.

Burke watched helplessly as his defense allowed the 10th-ranked Shipbuilders to score an unearned run in the top of the second, but leading off the bottom of the frame, Burke crushed a home run to left-center to give the seventh-seeded Falcons a spark.

Sophomore catcher Colby Wagner then put Freeport ahead to stay in the third inning with another home run, good for a 2-1 lead.

Knowing that they needed to get through the fifth inning to make the win official, the Falcons made quick work of Morse in the fourth and fifth, thanks to some nice defense on deep fly balls from senior leftfielder Caiden Shea.

In the bottom of the fifth, Freeport got some breathing room, as junior centerfielder Joey Burke and Davenport had base hits and Wagner walked to load the bases and after a pair of outs, with the Falcons on the verge of a major squander, Shea beat out an infield single and junior designated hitter Bennett Hight followed with a two-run single to push the lead to four.

From there, Josh Burke slammed the door and after 31 years in the wilderness, Freeport had a playoff victory, 5-1.

The Falcons got a three-hit gem from Burke, who also crushed one of the team’s two home runs, improved to 11-6, ended Morse’s year at 4-13 and advanced to meet No. 2 York (11-5) in the quarterfinals Thursday at 3 p.m. in York.

“It means a lot for the program and the fans,” said Davenport. “It gives us life and lets us know we can do amazing things.”

A long time in coming

Freeport entered the 2016 season optimistic and after a slow start, the Falcons were as good as anyone in their region.

Freeport opened with a 2-0 home win over Lake Region behind a Davenport, gem, then lost three road games in a row: 4-1 at Yarmouth, 11-1 at York and 11-2 at Falmouth. A 6-4 home win over Kennebunk was followed by a 10-0 home loss to Cape Elizabeth. After a 1-0 victory at Old Orchard Beach behind a Davenport no-hitter, the Falcons lost, 3-2 at Fryeburg Academy, but they soon embarked on a seven-game win streak.

The surge began with a 7-2 home victory over Gray-New Gloucester and continued with a six-inning, 10-0 blanking of host Lake Region. On May 17, Freeport held off visiting Greely, 3-1, to beat the two-time defending Class B champions for the first time in at least 30 years. The wins kept on coming, 9-0 at Poland, 8-2 at home over Wells, 4-2 at home over York and 10-0 (in five-innings) at home over Poland.

Last Wednesday, the Falcons lost, 2-1, in eight-innings, at Traip Academy to wind up 10-6 and seventh in Class B South.

“We did a (preseason) trip to North Carolina and the guys came together and have been playing for each other,” said Freeport’s third-year coach Bill Ridge, who led the Falcons to the preliminary round in each of the past two seasons, only to see them fall short. “We started playing well and we got the mindset of not being just a playoff team this year, but of making some noise. It’s gratifying for the five seniors. They’re totally different young men than they were three years ago.”

Morse was the final team into the field with a 4-12 mark.

Prior to Tuesday, the teams had no playoff history.

Speaking of history, Freeport’s last playoff win (and its only previous postseason victories) came in the 1985 Western C tournament. After downing Traip Academy, 4-3, in nine-innings, in the preliminary round, the Falcons defeated Oak Hill (7-2) in the quarterfinals.

And until Tuesday, they hadn’t won a postseason game since.

In the interim, five presidents spent time in the White House, 18 different teams won the World Series (including the Curse-busting Red Sox on three separate occasions) and 16 different squads won the Super Bowl (including the Patriots four times).

In June, 1985, Michael Jordan had just been named NBA Rookie of the Year, Madonna and Bruce Springsteen dominated the radio airwaves, “Back to the Future” and “Rambo: First Blood II” were the hit movies, a gallon of gas cost $1.09, a stamp was .22 cents, the Nintendo Entertainment System had just been released and the Live Aid concert, which produced the classic song, “We Are the World,” was just a month away.

The 1985 Falcons featured a top player named Bill Davenport (Jack’s father). It was coached by Steve Norton and Richard Edgecomb was the school’s athletic director. Current athletic director Craig Sickels was in his second year coaching, teaching and serving as the athletic director at Buckfield High School. 

Ridge was three years from being born and the birth of all of the 2016 Falcons was far off in the future.

Tuesday afternoon, in front of a large crowd, with the temperature reading 68 degrees and the clouds rolling in, Freeport’s baseball team swept three-plus decades of frustration into the dustbin of history with a long-awaited playoff victory.

Josh Burke was dominant in the top of the first, retiring the Shipbuilders in order in two minutes flat. He got second baseman Tyler Young to pop out to second, catcher Taylor Shaw to ground out to short and first baseman Jacob Cressey to hit a squibber in front of the plate which Wagner grabbed and threw to first to retire the side.

In the bottom half, against Morse starter Tait Nygaard, junior second baseman Max Doughty fouled out to first base on the first pitch and Joey Burke grounded out to short, where Keegan McDonough made a nice backhanded stab and throw. Davenport then walked and took second on a wild pitch. Wagner had a chance to deliver the game’s first run, but he popped out to short.

The visitors got the game’s first run in the second, thanks to some help from the Falcons.

Burke got McDonough to hit a sharp grounder to Doughty at second for the first out and centerfielder Tucker Banger flew out to left. Burke then struck out designated hitter Nicholas Doughty, but strike three got away and Doughty reached first base safely. Jacob True came in to run and he took off for second as Nygaard singled to right. True continued on to third and when junior rightfielder Josh Spaudling’s throw to third base was high, True came in to score with Nygaard going to third. Burke escaped further damage by getting rightfielder Chase Smith to look at strike three.

Josh Burke immediately erased the deficit in the bottom half, as he got all of a Nygaard offering and sent the ball deep to left-center. The Morse outfielders could only look on helplessly as the ball carried over the fence for a game-tying home run.

“It was a great feeling,” Burke said. “I just wanted to get on base. I just wanted to get something started. I guess I just got a hold of one. It’s the first one I’ve hit.”

“Josh has a reputation on the team of having warning track power and he hears about it constantly, so it was good for him to get that one,” Ridge said.

Senior first baseman Caleb Rice bid for another home run, but it was caught on the warning track by leftfielder Parker Onorato. Shea then reached on an error by McDonough on a tough hop and after Hight flew out to center, Shea moved up on a passed ball and went to third when senior third baseman Ben Humphrey reached on an error by third baseman Riley Lanarre on a tough hop. The runners would be stranded, however, as Doughty grounded out to short to keep the score 1-1.

Onorato started the third with a bunt single and Young’s bunt back to the mound was thrown into centerfield by Josh Burke for an error, putting runners at first and second, but Burke got Shaw to line to center, Cressey to pop foul to Wagner near the plate and McDonough to ground back to the mound.

“In the second and third innings, we didn’t play well or support Josh at all,” Ridge said. “He was a man out there and he kept pitching and getting outs. Then we smartened up.”

Joey Burke started the bottom half by looking at strike three and Davenport just missed a home run, flying out to the warning track in right-center, but Wagner was able to finish the job, crushing a home run over the fence in right-center to put Freeport ahead to stay, 2-1.

“Not seeing a curve all day, I just waited for the fastball and it just happened to be in the right spot,” Wagner said.

“When we went on our tear in the middle of the season, it’s because Colby’s bat really woke up,” Ridge said. “Having him hit well behind Jack really helps Jack. The other team still pitches around Jack even knowing how good Colby is.”

Josh Burke reached on an error, but Rice grounded out to third to keep it a one-run game.

As the fourth inning began, the clouds thickened and with word of delays and even postponements coming in from other games around the area, suddenly there was urgency to get the contest through the top of the fifth to make it official.

Burke did his part by getting Banger to ground to second and Doughty and Nygaard to both hit deep fly balls to Shea.

In the bottom of the fourth, Shea grounded out to second and after Hight reached on a single to left and was sacrificed to second by Humphrey, Doughty looked at strike three to end the threat.

Burke set Morse down in order in the fifth as well, getting Smith to ground out to third, fanning Onorato and inducing a deep fly to left off the bat of Young, which nestled in Shea’s glove to make it an official game.

But the Falcons weren’t looking to win on a technicality, they wanted to finish it off in traditional fashion and would do so.

“I looked at the radar every hour,” Ridge said. “Freeport had a cloud around us and we weren’t letting the bad weather in. We weren’t sure if four-and-a-half innings counted, so we were rushing in and rushing out each inning.”

Freeport then put up a crooked number in the bottom of the fifth.

Joey Burke beat out a slow grounder to short for an infield hit and Davenport hit a sharp single to right and when Smith couldn’t handle the ball, the runners went to second and third. Wagner then drew a walk and the hosts were in business with the bases loaded.

It appeared the Falcons were going to strand all three runners, however, when Josh Burke popped out to second and Rice popped out to Shaw by the plate, but Shea saved the day by grounding the ball to Nygaard’s right and when the ball died in the grass, he raced to first for an infield single which scored Joey Burke for a 3-1 lead.

“That was a fortunate bad swing on a 2-0 pitch that looked like a sharp single in the book,” Ridge said.

Hight then hit a sharp grounder wide of third that Lanarre couldn’t reach and Davenport and Wagner came home to stretch the lead to four.

Humphrey struck out, but the damage was done, as the Falcons led, 5-1.

“Getting three runs that inning gave us breathing room,” Ridge said.

Leading off the sixth, Shaw grounded out to third with Rice making a nice play to apply the tag on a wide throw from Humphrey. Cressey then singled past third, but McDonough grounded into a Davenport-to-Doughty force out and Banger hit a grounder to Davenport, who stepped on second for the force out to end the frame.

In the bottom half, Doughty led off with an infield single, then took second when the throw from third was wide. Joey Burke sacrificed Doughty to third and after Davenport was walked intentionally, Davenport was caught stealing. Wagner also walked and after Nygaard was replaced by Ricky Warren, Josh Burke fanned swinging to strand two runners.

Burke quickly shook off that at-bat and put the Shipbuilders away in the seventh.

Doughty led off with a line drive, but it was right at Joey Burke in center.

Next up was Nygaard, who grounded out to Humphrey at third.

Then, at 5:27 p.m., after a dominant 85 minute performance, Josh Burke ended the game and 31 years of waiting by getting pinch-hitter Brenden Harper to ground to Davenport, who flipped a throw to Rice, to bring the curtain down on the 5-1 victory.

“This year, we came out as a team, we’ve beaten some good teams and that brought our confidence up and we’ve kept it rolling,” Davenport said.

“This is huge for us,” Wagner said. “We can play with the big teams. We’ve always been the underdog, but this year, we’ve stuck together and shown what we’re all about. We came together and showed we can do anything.”

“It’s awesome,” Ridge added. “That was a great crowd. This community has been awesome this year. We’ve had steady crowds and a lot of energy in home games. In the last week or so, social media has talked about the history of the program, so this is great.

“We’re heading in the right direction. It’s been baby steps. When I started, there weren’t a ton of numbers, so we had to build the numbers. With numbers, we built accountability and with accountability, you can see the product is a lot better. It’s nice it’s culminated this year for the seniors.”

Josh Burke improved to 3-1 after allowing just one unearned run on three hits in seven innings. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out three. 

“I felt great,” said Burke, who was given a celebratory water bath by his teammates after the game. “I had some great fielders backing me up. I had a catcher calling all the right pitches.”

“Josh has come up huge,” said Wagner, his catcher. “He beat York and Greely. I knew he’d bring it today. When he gets locked in, he’s on.”

“The way Josh was throwing, he just deals,” said Davenport, who knows a thing or two about the craft. “I knew we’d get a win with Josh on the mound.”

“Josh’s last three starts, he beat Greely, he beat York and won our first playoff game in 31 years, that’s not a bad three games,” Ridge added. “Josh just cruised at the end. It was awesome. Our defense is at its best when he’s on the mound. We have Jack in the field and Caleb Rice slides to first. We felt confident with his history and we liked the idea of saving Jack for him to get a chance to pitch at York when they haven’t seen him.”

Offensively, Freeport got two hits and two RBI from Hight. Wagner scored twice, while Joey Burke, Josh Burke and Davenport also touched home plate. Josh Burke, Shea and Wagner added RBI.

The Falcons overcame stranding nine runners.

Morse got a run from True but not much else in the way of offense. The Shipbuilders left three runners on base.

Nygaard fell to 2-2 after giving up five earned runs on eight hits in 5.2. innings. He walked four, threw a wild pitch and fanned three. Warren struck out the only batter he faced.

Trip to York

Freeport lost at York back on April 27, but beat the visiting Wildcats May 23. As a result of that game, as well as everything else that has gone their way the past month, the Falcons will travel south Thursday full of confidence as they look to beat the Wildcats in the first ever postseason encounter between the programs.

“We’ll keep taking it game-by-game and see what happens Thursday,” Wagner said. “I’m excited. Jack is obviously one of the best pitchers in the state. With him on the mound, we’re confident and ready to win.”

“The guys are totally confident we can go get York,” Ridge said. “We beat them once and our ace is going. The guys believe they can win.”

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

Freeport sophomore Josh Burke delivers to the plate. Burke threw a three-hitter to earn the win.

Morse pitcher Tait Nygaard throws a strike.

Freeport junior second baseman Max Doughty fields a ground ball.

Freeport senior Jack Davenport is tagged out by Morse shortstop Keegan McDonough on a stolen base attempt.

Freeport sophomore Josh Burke hits a home run to tie the game in the second inning.

Freeport sophomore catcher Colby Wagner breaks the tie with a third inning home run.

Morse centerfielder Tucker Banger climbs the fence in vain as Wagner’s home run lands out of reach.

Wagner is congratulated by his teammates after his home run.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.