For the first time ever, Freeport’s baseball team got to celebrate a regional championship after it defeated top-ranked Cape Elizabeth, 3-1, in last Wednesday’s Class B South Final.
The Falcons weren’t as happy following Saturday’s 12-2 (five-inning) loss to Old Town in the Class B state final as Max Doughty, Caleb Rice, Jack Davenport and Caiden Shea receive the runner-up plaque.
(Ed. Note: For the complete Freeport-Cape Elizabeth game story, with a box score and additional photos, see theforecaster.net)
The most memorable and inspirational story of the spring sports season, indeed of the entire school year, came to a disappointing close Saturday in Bangor, but a mercy rule loss to Old Town in the Class B state final isn’t how we’ll remember the 2016 Freeport baseball team.
What will live on will be the Falcons’ coming from absolute nowhere to steal hearts and shock the local baseball world as they didn’t just win a playoff game for the first time since 1985.
They won four and captured the program’s first-ever regional championship.
Freeport was 3-5 at the midway point of the 2016 season, but caught fire with a seven-game win streak, which included confidence-building victories over two-time defending state champion Greely and top contender York.
Even with a 10-6 record, the Falcons were only ranked seventh for the playoffs, but they embarked on a run that captivated not just those living in RSU5, but baseball fans everywhere.
First, Freeport downed No. 10 Morse, 5-1, in the preliminary round, to win its first ever playoff game in Class B and first postseason game anywhere since 1985.
That was expected to be the end of a feel-good story, but the Falcons then went to No. 2 York and prevailed, 7-2, in the quarterfinals.
Certainly Freeport’s run would end at No. 3 Greely, seeking a third consecutive championship, but the Falcons won, 1-0, in the semifinals to reach a regional final for the first time.
That Class B South Final was played last Wednesday evening at St. Joseph’s College, where Freeport had to get past top-ranked Cape Elizabeth, a team that beat the host Falcons, 10-0, May 4.
The Capers won the only previous playoff meeting (4-0 in the 2012 preliminary round).
In the top of the first inning, after Joey Burke reached on an error, ace Jack Davenport laced a double to left-center and Burke scored for a quick 1-0 lead.
“We shouldn’t ever be nervous,” Davenport said. “It’s just another game to us. We were focused and ready. I was just trying to put a big hit up for my team. We wanted to show them who we are. That boosted our energy even more.”
“That first run was huge,” leftfielder Caiden Shea said. “Jack is Mr. Clutch.”
After Davenport worked out of jams the first three innings, the Falcons added a second run in the fourth, as Josh Burke singled with one out, was sacrificed to second base by Caleb Rice and came home on an error.
Cape Elizabeth got a run back in the bottom half, with an unearned run of its own, but in the fifth, Max Doughty scored on a wild pitch and that did it for scoring.
The rest of the way, it was Davenport and a heavy dose of Freeport’s defense, as the Capers hit several balls hard, but right at Falcons’ outfielders, and as darkness descended, a sight never before seen prepared to play out.
In the seventh inning, Davenport recorded his lone 1-2-3 inning and when senior first baseman Bryce Hewitt grounded out to end it, the impossible dream had come true as Freeport prevailed, 3-1.
“It means a lot to me and my teammates and to make history, again, is just amazing,” Davenport said. “We just keep pushing ourselves and it just keeps getting better.”
“It’s unbelievable,” Shea said. “We’ve worked at this for so long. I still haven’t taken it all in yet. We knew there were teams underestimating us and we wanted to prove them wrong. We wanted to come out and play our game and win.”
“Unbelievable is a good word for this,” Freeport coach Bill Ridge added. “It’s the seniors. Those five seniors are unbelievable. The character they show. They’re great players. They weren’t always good leaders, but they’ve turned themselves into that.”
While it didn’t show up in the box score, the Falcons were bolstered by their ever-growing fan section, which certainly inspired them to victory, as they’ve done frequently in recent weeks.
“I think the whole town of Freeport was here,” Shea said. “Seeing everyone was such great support. We had people from Pownal, Durham, everywhere. They cancelled Little League games to come support us.”
“The town didn’t think this was coming, but once we kept winning, they kept coming out and supporting us,” Davenport said.
“We knew this was a special thing, but we didn’t realize how special,” Ridge added. “I think there were more people here than in Freeport tonight. They’ve supported us the entire playoff run. We hear about it at school, people send us emails, it’s unbelievable.”
Cape Elizabeth coach Andy Wood showed great respect for the Falcons in his postgame comments.
“It’s special for Coach Ridge,” Wood said. “I grew up in South Portland with him. I’m bummed losing, but there’s no one out there better. He got those guys playing hot at the right time.”
Freeport and its throng of fans then made the long journey north Saturday morning to meet Class B North top seed Old Town in the state final at Mansfield Field in Bangor.
The Falcons gave the fans hopes by scoring twice in the top of the first, as Doughty walked, then reached second when Joey Burke bunted him over. Davenport was intentionally walked, bringing up catcher Colby Wagner, and Wagner drove in the first run with an RBI single to center.
“I’ve been in that situation a lot this year, with Jack getting walked and me coming up, and I haven’t always delivered,” said Wagner. “It felt good to jump out.”
“That was great for Colby,” said Ridge. “Guys do treat Jack a little bit differently, rightfully so, he’s one of the best players in the state. Colby’s right there too, though, so it wasn’t surprising that Colby came through for us, but it was awesome for him.”
Davenport then scored on Josh Burke’s sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead.
Davenport, having pitched three days prior against Cape Elizabeth, was ineligible to take the mound, so Josh Burke, who had already beaten Morse and Greely in the playoffs, got the call instead.
But Old Town quickly seized control in the bottom half, scoring four times.
“We weren’t expecting it, to say the least,” said Wagner. “They scored and we were down. We were ready to keep on going and it just didn’t go our way.”
“That’s as strong a hitting team as we’ve seen all year,” said Ridge. “They weren’t letting us get away with mistakes today. If we made a mistake with a pitch, they didn’t let us get away with it, if we made a mistake in the field, they didn’t let us get away with it. They capitalized. They did an awesome job following up an error with a base hit, an error with a double.”
The Coyotes added four more runs in the second inning to blow it open and took a 10-2 lead after three.
Old Town didn’t score in the fourth, but two more runs in the fifth brought the curtain down on a 12-2 victory.
Freeport was disappointed with the loss, but kept it in perspective.
“It was really magical, just to beat all those [top-ranked] teams,” Davenport said. “We should be proud of that. Yeah we lost the state championship, but we still came out champions for the South. We shouldn’t be hanging our heads. We’re second-best in Class B.”
“It’s been incredible,” Ridge said. “We’ve been getting messages, e-mails that aren’t even congratulations, they’re thank-yous. It’s unreal how gracious and warm the whole town has been. The team got hot and they jumped on our backs and they were with us every step of the way. The crowd has been huge since the Morse game, the first round of the playoffs.”
Freeport will have a tough time saying goodbye to its seniors, Davenport, Rice, Shea, Brandon Cass and Ben Humphrey.
“Those five seniors, although they were sophomores when I got here, they were kind of the base of the program, right from the start,” Ridge said. “One thing that we just spoke about, as a team, was how far those five have come, the last three years. They’re different baseball players and they’re completely different men than the day that I met them. They turned themselves into leaders on the team, out on the field and we don’t get here without any of them.”
Current sportswriter Adam Birt contributed to this story.