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Freeport’s baseball team erupts with joy after the final out of Saturday’s 1-0 win at two-time defending Class B champion Greely in a Class B South semifinal. The Falcons advanced to the first regional final in program history where they will battle top-ranked Cape Elizabeth Wednesday.
Freeport’s baseball team has now achieved something it had never accomplished before.
Winning a regional semifinal.
And the Falcons aren’t done yet.
The most inspirational story of the 2016 spring season continued to raise the bar Saturday at Twin Brook Recreation Center, where one run was enough to improve to 13-6, end Greely’s two-year championship reign and set up a regional final showdown with top-ranked Cape Elizabeth (13-5) Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at St. Joseph’s College in Standish.
After three successive trips to the playoffs, Freeport entered 2016 hopeful of being a serious contender, but no Falcons fan, not even in his or her wildest dream, could have anticipated what this spring would bring.
Freeport began modestly, losing five of its first eight games, then the magic set in.
The Falcons won seven straight games, highlighted by their first win over Greely in at least 30 years. Even though Freeport lost in extra innings at Traip Academy in the finale, its 10-6 mark was its best in four years.
The Falcons earned the No. 7 seed for the Class B South playoffs and Tuesday, behind home runs from sophomores Colby Wagner and Josh Burke and a three-hit gem from Burke, defeated No. 10 Morse, 5-1, for their first playoff victory since 1985.
Freeport wasn’t remotely satisfied and Thursday, made a big statement with a 7-2 win at second-ranked York, as senior standout Jack Davenport went the distance and also drove in two runs and junior Max Doughty had four hits.
That sent the Falcons to play No. 3 Greely, the gold standard of Class B, which won the state title in 2014 and again in 2015. The Rangers advanced by downing No. 6 Yarmouth (2-0) in their quarterfinal.
The teams had met just once previously in the playoffs, a 1-0 Greely win in the 2004 preliminary round.
While most expected the Rangers to prevail Saturday, the determined Falcons and their huge throng of followers, who helped make up one of the biggest crowds in memory at Twin Brook Recreation Center, thought otherwise.
The game began as a pitcher’s duel between Burke and Greely senior Caleb Normandeau.
In the bottom of the first, Burke got some help from his defense, which turned a double play to keep the game scoreless.
“They got a leadoff hit and then, boom, next at-bat, we’ve got Jack Davenport getting a double-play,” Burke said.
The Falcons had a chance to break through in the second, but despite hits from seniors Caleb Rice and Caiden Shea, stranded a pair.
Then, in the top of the third, Freeport got what proved to be the only run of the game and to the surprise of absolutely no one, Davenport produced the big blow.
Doughty took one for the team, getting hit by a Normandeau pitch, and he stole second. Then, with two outs, Davenport came up with the biggest hit in a high school career full of them, an RBI single, to plate Doughty and put the Falcons up, 1-0.
“We got up there with a guy on second base and Davenport – who, in my opinion, is the best player in our conference, if not the state – that’s a situation we know he’s going to deliver and he did,” said Freeport coach Bill Ridge. “He did exactly what everybody here thought he would do.”
Then, Freeport had to hold that advantage for five innings.
In the bottom of the third, Burke hit a batter and gave up a hit, but he got out of the jam unscathed.
Greely left another runner on in the fourth.
The Rangers had a good chance to score in the fifth, as they put two runners on, but Burke got the final out of the inning on his final pitch of the day.
“Going towards my four and five innings, my arm was getting tired, so I was getting a little wild and I decided I couldn’t pitch six or seven,” Burke said. “(The decision) was both [mine and Coach Ridge’s]. I told him I couldn’t do it anymore and he was like, ‘Yeah, that was your last inning.’”
After the Falcons failed to extend the lead in the top of the sixth, despite a Burke double, Burke was replaced on the mound by junior Austin Langley, who continued what his predecessor started, setting Greely down in order.
Freeport couldn’t score in the top of the seventh and it was on the bottom half, where Langley was replaced by junior Josh Spaulding.
With anticipation and trepidation radiating through the Falcons’ cheering section in equal measure, Spaulding appeared to strike out Greely senior Brad Spoerri, but he stayed alive on a foul tip, then Spoerri was hit by a pitch.
Spoerri was sacrificed to second, bringing up catcher Dylan Fried, who hit a ground ball to third base for the second out.
With the weight of history hanging in the balance, Spaulding was undaunted, striking out Luke Miller and at 2:40 p.m. on Saturday, June 11, 2016, Freeport had made history with a 1-0 victory and a raucous celebration ensued.
“It feels amazing, honestly,” Burke said. “Knocking down the two-time, defending champion.”
“It’s unbelievable, just unbelievable,” Ridge said. “We had some high expectations for ourselves this year, coming into it, but I can’t honestly say that anybody was expecting this.”
Burke improved to 4-1 with the biggest win of his career. He only allowed two hits in five shutout innings, walked two and had two strikeouts.
“I was getting the outside (corner) a little bit in the beginning and my curveball was working pretty good,” Burke said. “I don’t get many Ks, this season. It’s all the fielders, really, and I’ve got Colby (my catcher) calling great pitching calls.”
“[Josh’s] last four starts, he beat Greely, then we trotted him out against York and he beat York, the next one was the first playoff win in 31 years for Freeport and now, a semifinal,” Ridge said. “He’s been lights out. All the credit to him. Our pitchers are throwing strikes and we’re playing great defense behind them. Today we didn’t hit a ton, but we’ve been hitting for the most part.”
Langley threw a perfect inning of relief and Spaulding earned the save, registering a strikeout and hitting a batter.
Greely got 12 strikeouts from Normandeau, but only managed two hits and went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position as its season ended at 12-5-1.
“It was just one of those games where we couldn’t seem to catch a break,” said Rangers coach Derek Soule. “Our hard-hit balls were right at them and they made plays. We had a lot of bang-bang plays that didn’t go our way. It wasn’t meant to be. To win nine playoff games in a row over three years, we got some breaks, but this time, our luck ran out. Freeport is no fluke. They have guys on that team who had success in Little League All-Stars several years in a row. I’m happy for them. They can build on this and it’s good for the league.
“We had a lot of injuries this year and it was tough for us to really get in a flow. Other than the first three games, we didn’t have a consistent lineup until the end of the regular season, but I was optimsitic going into the playoffs.”
Greely graduates 10 players, including six who were in the lineup regularly, so it will have some holes to fill, but with the likes of Twitchell, Miller, catcher Dylan Fried and third baseman Tate Porter returning, the Rangers can’t be written off.
“This is a tough senior class to replace,” Soule said. “We had some elite student-athletes in that class. They have great character.
“It will be good to have experience and pitcher and catcher next year. That’s a good nucleus to start with. We’ll get back after it next spring.”
Cape Elizabeth won the regular season meeting, 10-0, at Freeport, May 4. The Falcons are a vastly different team now, however.
The Capers won the only prior playoff meeting, a 4-0 victory in the 2012 preliminary round in Freeport.
Rest assured, the Falcons aren’t content just getting to the big stage.
They want their season to extend to one more Saturday and culminate with an improbable state championship.
“I feel really great going forward,” Burke said. “We’ve got Jack pitching (Wednesday), who is one of the best pitchers in the state, in my opinion. I think he can go lights-out. I guess we were underestimated as the No. 7 seed, but right now we’re showing everybody we deserve to be there. We have what it takes. We believe we deserve to be there.”
“We’ve got Jack coming back,” Ridge said. “Jack’s ready for it. He wants it, it’s his. We feel confident going into the game.”
Current Publications staff writer Adam Birt contributed to this story.