Freeport rallies to beat Yarmouth at its own game

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Freeport sophomore Gabe Wagner celebrates as classmate Liam Holt looks on during the Falcons’ 4-2 home win over Yarmouth Wednesday.

Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Freeport 4 Yarmouth 2

Y- 000 020 0- 2 7 1
F- 000 040X- 4 4 1

Top 5th
Caruso doubled to center, Waeldner and Waaler scored.

Bottom 5th
Johnston doubled to left-center, G. Wagner and Salter scored. L. Holt stole home. S. Wagner scored on error.

Multiple hits:
Y- Waaler, Waeldner

Runs:
Y- Waaler, Waeldner
F- L. Holt, Salter, G. Wagner, S. Wagner

RBI:
Y- Caruso 2
F- Johnston 2

Doubles:
Y- Caruso. Waeldner
F- Johnston, Sawicki

Stolen bases:
Y- Waaler
F- L. Holt, S. Wagner

Left on base:
Y- 6
F- 4

Waeldner, Lainey (6) and Waaler; Cockburn, S. Wagner (7) and C. Wagner

Y:
Waeldner (L, 2-1) 5.2 IP 4 H 4 R 3 ER 0 BB 8 K 4 HBP 1 WP
Lainey 0.1 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 0 K 

F:
Cockburn (W 4-0) 6 IP 7 H 2 R 2 ER 3 BB 3 K 1 HBP
S. Wagner (Save, 2) 1 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 1 K

Time: 1:31

FREEPORT—Wednesday afternoon’s pivotal Class B South baseball showdown between the defending state champion Yarmouth Clippers and red-hot Freeport Falcons was decided by a steal of home.

But before you think that the always-aggressive Clippers came away victorious, guess again.

It was the host Falcons not exactly flattering Yarmouth with their imitation as they dug into the Clippers’ bag of tricks to earn yet another key victory in a season full of them, taking another big step toward the top of the standings in the process.

For four innings, neither team could solve Freeport sophomore starter Heath Cockburn or Yarmouth senior pitcher Luke Waeldner, but all kinds of wackiness ensued in the fifth inning, which saw all of the game’s runs recorded.

The Clippers produced a two-out rally in the top of the frame, as Waeldner, senior catcher James Waaler and junior centerfielder Jack Romano all singled to load the bases and senior third baseman Jackson Caruso followed with a two-run, ground-rule double to put the visitors on top, 2-0.

Back roared the Falcons, by virtue of two hit batters, a wild pitch, a passed ball and a clutch two-run double from junior designated hitter Finn Johnston, who is playing varsity baseball for the first time this spring.

With the game deadlocked and sophomore second baseman Liam Holt on third base and junior third baseman Shea Wagner at first, Wagner took off to get in a rundown and on the play, Holt raced home and beat the throw to complete a double steal to give Freeport the lead.

The Falcons added a run on an error and their pitching did the rest.

After Cockburn held Yarmouth at bay in the sixth, Shea Wagner came on to close in the seventh and he set the Clippers down in order to give Freeport a 4-2 victory.

The Falcons won their fourth game in a row, improved to 8-3 and in the process, snapped Yarmouth’s win streak at three and dropped the Clippers to 6-4.

“It got wild for a little bit,” Freeport coach Bill Ridge said. “It seems like that happens when we play Yarmouth. It’s low scoring, then something weird happens. Usually it happens for them, so it was nice to have it our way today.”

Headline makers

Freeport and Yarmouth each authored amazing postseason stories the past two years.

In 2016, the Falcons, seeded eighth, made a spirited run to their first ever Class B state final, which they lost to Old Town.

Last spring, the Clippers, ranked ninth, did Freeport one better as they got to the state final and capped an amazing surge with a victory over Old Town.

This season, both teams are on the short list of favorites in a deep and balanced Class B South.

Yarmouth held off visiting York in the opener, 4-3, then blanking host Poland (12-0). After falling in five-innings at Greely (13-2), the Clippers downed visiting Poland in five-innings (13-2) before losing at Wells, 7-3, and at home in nine-innings to Cape Elizabeth (2-1). Yarmouth then turned things around with a 6-0 victory at Lake Region and went on to enjoy home victories over St. Dom’s (9-3) and Greely (3-2).

Freeport started by beating visiting Poland (7-4) and Traip Academy (6-5) and host Lake Region (12-6) before letting a four-run seventh inning lead slip away in a 5-4 loss at Wells. After bouncing back to win at Greely, 6-2, the Falcons lost at home to Cape Elizabeth (8-2) and dropped a tough 5-4 decision at York. Freeport then hit its stride, as Cockburn one-hit host Cape Elizabeth (3-0), and the Falcons had their way with visiting Old Orchard Beach (13-2) and host Lincoln Academy (13-0).

Entering play Wednesday, Yarmouth held an 18-9 advantage in the series dating to the start of the 2003 season (see sidebar, below), but the Falcons always play the Clippers tough.

Last year, Yarmouth held on for a 7-5 win at Freeport to make it five victories in the last six meetings.

Wednesday, on a chilly (53 degrees) and breezy afternoon, in the teams’ first meeting this late in a regular season when both had winning records since the Falcons were 9-4 and the Clippers 8-5 in late May of 2012, Freeport earned its first win over Yarmouth since May 27, 2015.

Cockburn retired his opposite number, Waeldner, on a ground ball back to the mound to start the game, then gave up a solid single to left off the bat of Waaler, who promptly stole second base. Cockburn got Romano to look at strike three, but he hit Caruso with a pitch before getting senior first baseman Ben Norton to ground out to second.

Waeldner opened the bottom of the first by striking out Shea Wagner. Senior shortstop Jack Sawicki popped out to second, but Waeldner hit senior catcher Colby Wagner before striking out junior first baseman Toby Holt for the third out.

Yarmouth had a great chance to grab the lead in the top of the second, as senior designated hitter Dom Morrill singled to right and moved up when sophomore rightfielder Gabe Wagner over-ran the ball for an error. Sophomore shortstop Aidan Hickey followed with a walk. Then, after Colby Wagner gunned down Morrill trying to steal third, junior rightfielder Toby Burgmaier walked, but Cockburn bore down and got sophomore second baseman Jason Lainey to ground sharply to Liam Holt at second, who flipped to Sawicki for one out and Sawicki threw to first to complete the inning-ending double play.

Waeldner made quick work of the Falcons in the bottom of the frame, getting Cockburn to pop out to first, Gabe Wagner to line back to the mound and senior leftfielder Caleb Salter to chase strike three.

When Waeldner led off the top of the third with a double down the rightfield line, it appeared the Clippers were in business, but Cockburn got Waaler to line out to center, Romano to ground to third, with Waeldner moving up, and Caruso to fly out deep to center.

Freeport went quietly again in the bottom of the third, as Johnston grounded out to first unassisted, junior centerfielder Eriksen Shea grounded to short, where Hickey made a nice play on a tough hop, and Shea Wagner bounced back to the mound.

Cockburn had his easiest inning in the top of the fourth, as he fanned Norton, got Morrill to ground out to second and Hickey to fly out deep to left.

The Falcons then got their first hit in the bottom half, but couldn’t produce a run.

Sawicki led off with a ringing double into the gap in right-center and he took third when Colby Wagner grounded softly back to the mound. Toby Holt couldn’t deliver the run, however, as he popped out to second and Cockburn met the same fate, popping up to first.

Offense then made an appearance in the fifth inning.

In the top half, Cockburn made a tremendous athletic play, racing off the mound to nab a foul pop off the bat of senior Ben Gleason, then doing it again, diving off the mound to snare a ground ball from Lainey before throwing out the runner.

Unfortunately for Freeport, it needed to record three outs, not two, and the third out would take awhile.

Waeldner got the uprising started with a bloop single down the leftfield line in front of Salter. Waaler then lined a solid single to right and Romano grounded slowly to short and when the ball took a strange hop and forced Sawicki to veer to his left, Romano reached on an infield single to load the bases.

That set the stage for Caruso, who again hit the ball hard to center and this time, it sailed over the head of Shea and one-hopped the fence for a ground-rule double, which brought in both Waeldner and Waaler for a 2-0 lead. That fortuitous bounce loomed large, as Norton struck out and instead of being down three runs, the Falcons only trailed by a pair.

They quickly made up those two runs and added two more for good measure.

Gabe Wagner led off the bottom of the fifth by taking a curveball off his helmet. After throwing a wild pitch, Waeldner then hit Salter in the foot and a passed ball moved both runners into scoring position. Johnston made Yarmouth pay by lining a double into the gap in left-center and both Wagner and Salter raced home to tie the score.

“I just got a good swing on a ball that seemed good to hit,” said Johnston, who played baseball through middle school before returning to the sport this spring. “It was a good rip.”

“Finn’s new to (varsity) baseball and he’s having a good time with it,” Ridge said. “He’s a baseball junkie. He asks a million questions a day. He’s always interested in getting better and making his teammates better.”

Liam Holt came in to run for Johnston and after Shea struck out swinging, Shea Wagner singled to left and Holt stopped at third.

That set the stage for the most critical play of the game.

With Sawicki at the plate, Wagner took off for second and stopped halfway. Waeldner came off the mound as Holt edged down the third base line. Waeldner threw to Lainey and after a split-second hesitation, Holt took off for home. The throw home was just late and just like that, the Falcons had stolen the lead.

“I was waiting for them to throw to second because I knew it would be a harder throw,” Holt said. “When he looked back, I took off. Shea did a great job keeping it alive. I knew I’d be safe.”

“That was a big run,” Ridge said. “We needed a really smart runner at that point. (Liam’s) played a lot of baseball. That was timed perfectly. He did exactly what he was supposed to do.” 

“Coach Ridge has done such a great job with his program,” said Yarmouth coach Marc Halsted. “They beat us at the game we like to play. We talk about the extra 90s. Hit batsmen, giving up an extra 90 feet on a dribbler down the line, kids taking extra bases, not hitting our cutoffs. You can’t give up extra 90s and we gave up far more extra 90s than they did.”

Freeport wasn’t done yet, as Wagner moved to second on the throw home and after Sawicki fanned on a full count pitch, Colby Wagner beat out a little squibber in front of the plate for an infield single and Waeldner’s throw to first got away to allow Shea Wagner to come home for a 4-2 advantage.

Waeldner then hit Toby Holt with a pitch before escaping further damage by striking out Cockburn.

Cockburn walked Morrill on a 3-2 pitch to start the sixth, but senior leftfielder Ethan Belesca, who came on as a courtesy runner, was picked off by Colby Wagner.

“I have to do a better job creating extra runs,” said Halsted. “This year, I’m trying to let guys swing their way into extra innings. It worked in one inning, but you can’t rely on a two- or three-run double.”

Hickey then grounded out to short and Burgmaier bounced out to third.

Waeldner started the bottom of the frame by fanning both Gabe Wagner and Salter before hitting the 110-pitch limit. Lainey then came on to get the last out, inducing a fly ball to center off the bat of Johnston.

Shea Wagner came on to close it out in the seventh and he made quick work of the Clippers, getting Lainey to pop out foul to first, as Toby Holt made a nice catch reaching over the line, getting Waeldner to chase strike three and Waaler to fly to right to end the contest in a tidy 91 minutes with the score 4-2 in Freeport’s favor.

“We didn’t have our best today, but we grinded and were aggressive and made something happen,” said Ridge.

The Falcons didn’t generate a lot of offense, posting only four hits, but they scored four times, as Liam Holt, Salter, Gabe Wagner and Shea Wagner all touched home.

Johnston had two RBI.

Liam Holt and Shea Wagner stole bases.

Freeport left four runners on base.

Cockburn improved to 4-0 after giving up two runs on seven hits in six innings. He walked three, hit a batter and fanned three.

“Heath had to grind and get outs,” Ridge said. “He was behind a lot, but after the fifth inning, he didn’t give in. The pitchers have done a great job.”

Shea Wagner earned his second save with a perfect seventh. He struck out one.

This is likely the first time in program annals that Freeport has defeated longtime powerhouses Cape Elizabeth, Greely and Yarmouth in the same season.

“Cape and Greely were a couple weeks ago at this point, so it was good to get another big win and energize these guys,” Ridge said. “The big thing this year is our defense has been steady and our baserunning has been aggressive.”

Yarmouth got two hits apiece from Waaler and Waeldner, who also scored the Clippers’ lone runs. Caruso had two RBI. Waaler also stole a base. Yarmouth left six runners on.

Waeldner fell to 2-1 on the season after surrendering four runs (three earned) on four hits in 5.2 innings. Waeldner didn’t walk a batter, but he hit four and threw a wild pitch. He fanned eight.

“Luke will be fine,” Halsted said. “He’s such a cerebral kid and he’ll learn from it. He hit lefties with curveballs. He’ll make that adjustment.”

Lainey retired the only batter he faced.

Race to the finish

The teams square off again in the regular season finale on Memorial Day in Yarmouth, but each squad has plenty of work to do first.

The Clippers (now ninth in the Class B South Heal Points standings) welcome Gray-New Gloucester Friday and go to Gardiner Saturday and to Cape Elizabeth Monday. After hosting Wells and going to Fryeburg Academy, Yarmouth finishes at home against Freeport.

“After Cape, we wanted to win six in a row then play Cape again,” Halsted said. “We won three and today, we got beaten by a very good team. We’ll look in the mirror and move forward. In our last 26 regular season games, we’ve only beaten one team ahead of us in the standings. Greely was the first time that’s happened. If we want to be great, we have to do that and we can’t rely on the playoffs. We have to make the dance first. We’ve got to get a date.”

Freeport (third behind Wells and Cape Elizabeth in the Class B South) is right back at it Thursday when Morse pays a visit. After going to Poland Monday, the Falcons host Fryeburg and Gray-New Gloucester before closing at Yarmouth.

Freeport has a great opportunity to earn a high seed and host at least one playoff game.

“We need to keep rolling and never give up,” Liam Holt said. “We’ll be aggressive. That’s what we do.”

“We play well on our field,” Johnston said. “It’s important to get homefield. If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll have that chance. We’re just going with the flow and the momentum we have after beating good teams like Yarmouth and Cape. With that confidence hopefully comes more success. We’ve got some great seniors on the team. Caleb Salter, Colby Wagner and Jack Sawicki are great players and they lead the younger players and help them grow.”

“We’ve love to play at home,” Ridge added. “That would be tremendous. That’s our goal. We want to set ourselves up to not have to play a prelim. We can control what’s going to happen to us and we won’t have to go on a ridiculous run at the end of the season to make things happen.”

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

Freeport sophomore Heath Cockburn throws a strike. Cockburn improved to 4-0 on the season.

Yarmouth senior starter Luke Waeldner delivers a pitch.

Freeport senior shortstop Jack Sawicki makes a throw across the diamond.

Freeport senior captain Caleb Salter takes a swing.

Freeport sophomore second baseman Liam Holt applies the tag on Yarmouth sophomore Aidan Hickey.

Yarmouth sophomore Jason Lainey checks his swing.

Freeport sophomore Liam Holt, left, is congratulated by junior Toby Holt after scoring the go-ahead run in the fifth inning.

Recent Freeport-Yarmouth results

2017
Yarmouth 7 @ Freeport 5

2016
@ Yarmouth 4 Freeport 1

2015
@ Yarmouth 7 Freeport 3
@ Freeport 4 Yarmouth 0

2014
@ Yarmouth 2 Freeport 1
Yarmouth 6 @ Freeport 3

2013
@ Yarmouth 5 Freeport 2
@ Freeport 10 Yarmouth 6

2012
@ Freeport 11 Yarmouth 1 (5)
Freeport 7 @ Yarmouth 0

2011
@ Yarmouth 16 Freeport 7
Yarmouth 3 @ Freeport 1 (8)

2010
Yarmouth 7 @ Freeport 0
@ Yarmouth 9 Freeport 2

2009
@ Yarmouth 15 Freeport 0 (5)
@ Freeport 5 Yarmouth 3

2008
Yarmouth 14 Freeport 3 (6)
@ Yarmouth 10 Freeport 0 (6)

2007
Yarmouth 7 @ Freeport 6
@ Yarmouth 10 Freeport 3

2006
@ Yarmouth 14 Freeport 4 (6)
Yarmouth 5 @ Freeport 4

2005
@ Freeport 3 Yarmouth 2
@ Yarmouth 7 Freeport 1

2004
Freeport 12 @ Yarmouth 7
@ Freeport 9 Yarmouth 8

2003
Freeport 4 @ Yarmouth 3

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