STANDISH—It was a superb matchup and initially a great day for a ballgame at St. Joseph’s College in Standish as the Greely Rangers and Waterville Purple Panthers battled it out for the Class B state title, with Waterville getting just enough offense to win 1-0, repeating as champions in the process.
Senior Tim Locke threw an absolute gem, going the distance, striking out eight and only allowing three hits. Freshman Aiden Fitzpatrick’s RBI single in the top of the fourth inning proved to be all the offense Waterville needed. Greely’s ace, junior Mike Leeman, also pitched extremely well, but somebody had to take the loss.
In the bottom of the second inning, Mother Nature, once again, threw a nasty curveball at southern Maine. The game started at 4 p.m. with tons of sunshine, but clouds nearby. Lightning flashed in the sky and thunder was booming around 4:30, so the umpires called everybody off the field. The players and coaches went to their buses and the massive amount of purple and maroon clad spectators went to their cars for shelter as the clouds and rain quickly moved in. After nearly two hours, the game resumed.
Greely freshman Bailey Train was in the middle of a 1-1 count with two outs when the delay occurred, so he was first in the box as play resumed. Locke promptly sat him down with his first strikeout of the game. Locke was overpowering the Rangers with his tough slider and dominant fastball all game.
“Everything was working real well, actually. Luck of the draw I guess,” Locke said of his pitches. “That two hour delay helped me out a lot, too.”
Locke said it was the first time he’d ever started a game and had a delay this extensive. It definitely worked in his favor, as he struck out two Rangers in the third inning and struck out three more in the fourth.
“We call them 1 and 1A,” said Waterville coach Don Sawyer, referring to Kyle Bishop and Locke, respectively. “When Timmy’s on, he can throw pretty hard and his location is just fantastic. He can hit up, out, in and his slider was really effective.”
The Rangers did have multiple scoring opportunities, though, but they were unable to capitalize. Locke had four walks and one hit batter on the day to give Greely a few baserunners.
“It was just one of those games where it was going to be about who caught the break. Is the ball going to drop in? Is a ground ball going to find a hole?” said Greely coach Derek Soule. “Unfortunately for us, they caught that break.”
In the fourth inning, Waterville led off the frame with three consecutive singles from Locke, Kyle Bishop, and Aidan FitzGerald. FitzGerald’s opposite field ground ball single scored Locke for the lone run of the contest. FitzGerald was retired at second trying to move up a base on the throw from the outfield for the first out of the inning. Racean Wood then struck out and Ryan Veilleux grounded out to end the Purple Panthers’ rally.
“Sometimes it takes us a couple innings to get used to it, and that might be the case for a lot of teams,” Bishop said. “You just need to get adjusted. We were talking on the bus during the rain delay, you know make him pitch, don’t chase anything out of the zone, and just wait for yours. We got three in a row and that was the difference.”
The Rangers wasted a golden opportunity in the bottom of the fifth inning. Train hit an infield single and Dan McKersie was hit by a pitch to give Greely two runners with nobody out. However, sophomore Jonah Normandeau hit a hard ground ball right to second baseman Cam Sawyer, who started the 4-6-3 double play. Brad McKenney then struck out looking on a slider to end the frame.
The Panthers got a leadoff double from Mark Beckim in the top of the fifth inning, but were unable to score him. Leeman induced back-to-back groundouts and then got J.T. Whitten to fly out to rightfield, stranding Beckim at third.
The sixth inning also looked promising for Greely. Junior catcher Pete Stauber led off with a line drive double in the right-centerfield gap and was quickly bunted over to third by Liam Maker. Ben Shain then drew a walk for runners on the corners with one out, but Matt Labbe struck out looking on another sharp breaking pitch from Locke and Leeman grounded out hard into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
“We knew they were going to be a tough challenge,” Leeman said. “We had to step up our game, but we just couldn’t finish.”
“It curved a lot and it had a nice sort of spin to it,” Leeman said of Locke’s slider. “It looked like a fastball until it moved and he threw it great.”
“That’s baseball. When you have two great pitchers, two great teams, that is often what it comes down to,” Soule said. “We’ve had games where we’ve got the break before, today we didn’t.”
The game was very crisp, as both teams definitely deserved to be in the state final. Both squads flashed some nice glove work and finished the game with zero errors.
“Last year we ended with 12 errors on the season,” Sawyer said. “This year I think we had probably 11. These kids really stay focused on defense and know that wins games,. When they come out, they do a lot of defensive work and take it very seriously as you can tell.”
For the young Rangers, they look to be back in the hunt again next year. Waterville is losing some huge contributors and will have to work hard again if it hopes to three-peat.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Mike Leeman and our guys,” Soule said. “They were up and battling from the first pitch to the last pitch.”
The players on the Waterville powerhouse, very comparable to the recent Westbrook powerhouse team, capped off excellent baseball careers. The Waterville guys played in multiple state title games growing up in youth summer leagues against Westbrook and came up just short. The Westbrook team, for those unaware, gained notoriety as they made serious noise in the Little League World Series in 2005 and saw its core players develop and perform extremely well all the way up to present day.
“All the way through we’ve had success, we’ve won games, and to cap it off like this is pretty amazing, pretty special,” Bishop said.
“We were very relaxed,” Locke said. “These guys are vets at this. Sophomore year we made it, junior year we made it, and this year we made it. We have a good group of guys. Most of the infield and outfield are a bunch of veterans, except a couple guys, so they knew what to do.”
Greely will only lose three starters, Labbe, McKersie, and Ben Shain. Waterville is graduating five of its top players, including Locke, Bishop, Cam Sawyer, Mark Beckim, and Ryan Veilleux. For the core Waterville guys, they definitely have “a lot to be proud about” as their coach said. Back-to-back state titles to cap off your high school career isn’t too shabby.
But be on the look-out for Greely in 2012. The Rangers willl have 10 seniors with plenty of experience to go around. Greely will retain its entire starting pitching staff in Normandeau, Train, and Leeman, along with numerous other position players.
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