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Greely junior Nick Butler, left, is congratulated by sophomore Brady Nolin after scoring a run in the fifth inning of the Rangers’ 4-0 win at Freeport Wednesday.
Derek Davis / Press Herald photos.
More photos below.
G- 100 030 0- 4 5 0
F- 000 000 0- 0 3 0
Nolin flew out to center, MacDonald scored.
Neleski doubled to left, Butler scored. McFarland scored on wild pitch. Whiting beat out infield single, Nolin scored.
G- Butler, MacDonald, McFarland, Nolin
G- Neleski, Nolin, Whiting
G- Butler, MacDonald, Nolin, Whiting
Left on base:
Neleski and Smith; Panciocco, T. Holt (5) and Von Glinsky-Gregiore.
Neleski (W, 2-0) 7 IP 3 H 0 R 2 BB 7 K 1 HBP
Panciocco (L, 0-1) 4.2 IP 4 H 4 R 4 ER 5 BB 2 K 1 WP 2 HBP
T. Holt 2.1 IP 1 H 0 R 1 BB 0 K 1 WP
FREEPORT—Greely’s baseball team has yet to play a single game on its home field and has practiced there just once, but a third of the way through the season, the Rangers are doing just fine, thank you very much.
Wednesday afternoon, Greely traveled to undefeated Freeport for an early-season showdown of top Class B South contenders and continued to rely on strong pitching, solid defense and timely hitting to remain red-hot.
The Rangers, bouncing back from their first loss Monday at York, showed tremendous plate discipline and patience in the top of the first inning, fouling off over 15 pitches to run Falcons sophomore starter Anthony Panciocco’s pitch count to 40 and while they scored just one run, it set the done.
Sophomore rightfielder Brady Nolin hit a sacrifice fly to score junior leftfielder Jake MacDonald for the only run that Greely senior ace Will Neleski would need.
With Neleski holding Freeport at bay, the Rangers added three insurance runs in the top of the fifth, as Neleski hit an RBI double, junior pinch-runner Harry McFarland scored on a wild pitch and senior third baseman Jacob Whiting beat out an infield single to drive in another run.
Neleski slammed the door from there and Greely prevailed, 4-0.
Neleski threw a three-hit shutout and the Rangers improved to 4-1 on the season, dropping the Falcons to 3-1 in the process.
“It’s good bounce-back,” said longtime Greely coach Derek Soule. “It was nice yesterday to actually have a practice on our home field for the first time this year. I think it made a difference. This was our first clean defensive game of the year. I think moving forward, we’ll be a very good defensive team. We just needed to get some reps in the field.”
Since the teams started playing regularly in 2004, Greely had won 14 of 17 meetings (see sidebar, below), but after the Rangers completely dominated for nearly a dozen years (winning three times by the mercy rule, including a 26-0 domination in 2008), Freeport flipped the script the past three years.
In 2016, the Falcons beat the Rangers for the first time this century, 3-1, at home in the regular season, then shocked Greely in the Class B South semifinals, 1-0, en route to an improbable state final appearance.
Last year, Freeport enjoyed a 6-2 win at Greely.
Both squads have lived up to billing this spring as top contenders.
The Rangers opened by beating “visiting” Fryeburg Academy, 9-2, in a game played in Old Orchard Beach, then blanked host Cape Elizabeth, 8-0, and won at Yarmouth, 7-1, before falling Monday at York, 11-0, in five-innings, Greely’s first mercy rule loss since May 16, 2002 (10-0, in five-innings at Gorham)
The Falcons, under new coach Kyle Goodrich, a former player and assistant coach with the program opened by defeating visiting Lake Region (11-5), visiting Wells (5-1) and host Traip Academy (14-7).
Wednesday, on a cloudy, 48 degree afternoon with a 10 mile per hour wind and occasional light rain, Freeport hoped to down Greely again, but instead, the Rangers beat the Falcons on their home field for the first time since 2014.
Panciocco, making his first varsity start, hit MacDonald with a pitch leading off. Butler was next and had an at-bat for the ages, forcing Panciocco to throw 15 pitches, fouling off nine of them, before popping out to the pitcher.
“I was sitting there waiting for (Nick) to get a hit,” Neleski said. “He made him work. That was great. The top of the order making (Panciocco) throw pitches opened it up for everybody.”
“That’s the longest at-bat I’ve seen in my 20 years,” Soule said.
Neleski was then hit by a pitch and after Panciocco threw a wild pitch, Nolin lifted a fly ball to center that was deep enough for a sacrifice fly to score MacDonald with the only run Neleski would need.
“Getting the lead was awesome,” said Neleski.
Senior designated Connor Sullivan drew a walk, but with Whiting at the plate, after a pitch in the dirt, Sullivan strayed too far from first and was picked off by Freeport freshman catcher Kempton Von Glinsky-Gregiore to end the frame.
Neleski started his time on the hill by catching Falcons senior designated hitter Eriksen Shea looking at strike three. Senior shortstop Shea Wagner then popped to short, but senior first baseman Toby Holt blooped a single in front of a diving MacDonald in left. Junior centerfielder Gabe Wagner then grounded out to second on a full count pitch for the third out.
Greely threatened to build on its lead in the top of the second, as Whiting lined a single just over the outstretched glove of Shea Wagner at short and senior first baseman Joe Cimino followed with a walk on four pitches. Panciocco then settled down and found his rhythm, getting senior second baseman Will Lyden to ground back to the mound with the runners moving up, then inducing a grounder back to the mound off the bat of senior centerfielder Evan Wyman and getting MacDonald to pop out foul to first to keep the score 1-0.
In the bottom half, Neleski got junior second baseman Heath Cockburn to fly out to center, where Wyman made a sliding catch, Von Glinsky-Gregiore to ground out to second and Panciocco to line to center, ending the frame in a tidy four pitches.
Panciocco had his most efficient inning in the top of the third, with plenty of help from Gabe Wagner, retiring Butler on a fly ball to center, getting Neleski to line out center, then inducing Nolin to fly out to center.
Neleski was unhittable in the bottom half, fanning junior third baseman Liam Holt on a 3-2 pitch, getting freshman rightfielder Blaine Cockburn to fan as well, then catching Shea staring at strike three.
In the top of the fourth, Sullivan popped out to short leading off, but Whiting walked on four pitches. Cimino flew out to right, but with Lyden at the plate, Whiting stole second. He’d be stranded, however, as Panciocco fanned Lyden on a 3-2 pitch.
Neleski remained dominant in the bottom of the fourth, getting Shea Wagner to fly out to left, Toby Holt to pop out to second and Gabe Wagner to watch strike three.
The Rangers then opened things up in the top of the fifth.
Wyman got the rally started by beating out a bunt single, but after an errant throw to first, he inadvertently made the turn to second base after touching the first base bag and was tagged out by Heath Cockburn for the first out. After MacDonald watched strike three, Panciocco was on the brink of ending the inning, but Greely worked some two-out magic, a familiar theme this spring.
Butler singled through the hole between shortstop and third base and after he stole second, Neleski crushed a pitch down the leftfield line for an RBI double and a 2-0 advantage.
“I was looking for my pitch,” Neleski said. “(Panciocco) had a good curveball, but he threw me a fastball and I hit it.”
McFarland pinch-ran and moved to third after a wild pitch and after Nolin walked, he stole second. Sullivan then walked to load the bases and that was it for Panciocco, who was replaced on the mound by Toby Holt.
With Whiting at the plate, Holt threw a wild pitch to score McFarland and Whiting followed with a bleeder in front of the plate, which he beat out, to score Nolin. Cimino popped out to second, but Greely enjoyed a 4-0 advantage.
“I was nervous when it was 1-0,” Soule said. “Freeport has some very good players and it’s a short porch all the way around. It was good to tag on those runs.”
The Falcons didn’t go quietly and threatened in the bottom half, but couldn’t answer.
Neleski hit Heath Cockburn with a pitch leading off and Von Glinsky-Gregiore walked. Panciocco grounded back to the mound to move the runners up, but Neleski fired strike three past Liam Holt on a 3-2 pitch, then did the same to Blaine Cockburn to end the frame.
Toby Holt made quick work of Greely in the top of the sixth, getting pinch-hitter Max Cloutier to ground to short, pinch-hitter Ryan Kolben to ground to short on a 3-2 pitch and MacDonald to pop out to first.
Shea led off the bottom half with a bloop single down the leftfield line and Shea Wagner reached on an infield single down the third base line, but Shea strayed too far from second and was thrown out by Whiting. Toby Holt then grounded back to Neleski, who threw to second for one out and Butler threw on to first to complete the inning-ending double play.
Holt walked Butler to start the top of the seventh, but Neleski flew out deep to center and after a passed ball, Holt got Nolin to fly out deep to center and pinch-hitter Brady Williams to fly out deep to center as well.
Gabe Wagner walked leading off the bottom of the frame, but Neleski got Heath Cockburn to ground out to short, Von Glinsky-Gregiore to bounce back to the mound and Panciocco to line out to Lyden at second to bring the curtain down on an error-free 4-0 Rangers’ victory in 1 hour, 37 minutes.
“Bouncing back is good,” Neleski said. “We didn’t play too well at York, which was surprising to me. To bounce back and play a perfect defensive game shows what we can do.”
“We’ve had high expectations this season, but when you’re on the road, it’s good to get off to a strong start,” said Soule.
Neleski improved to 2-0 on the young season and he’s yet to give up a run. He pitched seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out seven and hitting one.
“I felt good,” Neleski said. “I lost it a little at the end, but I wanted to go the distance. That’s always fun.”
“Here’s your Forecaster fun fact of the day…Will has now thrown a complete game shutout as a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior,” Soule said. “That’ll be tough to beat. I thought he didn’t give them too many freebies. His location was good and the defense likes to play behind him. He works quick and has a good rhythm.”
“Will’s really good,” Goodrich said. “He throws a lot of strikes, changes speeds. He’s a gamer, one of the best around.”
Whiting paced Greely’s offense with two hits. Butler, MacDonald, McFarland and Nolin scored the runs. Neleski, Nolin and Whiting had RBI. Butler, MacDonald, Nolin and Whiting stole bases.
Greely stranded seven base runners.
For Freeport, Panciocco took the loss, giving up four earned runs on four hits in 4.2 innings. He walked five, hit two batters, threw a wild pitch and fanned two, but gutted it out after a tough first inning.
“It was Anthony’s first varsity start and we have a freshman catcher,” said Goodrich. “With our long week, we thought it would be a good matchup for him against a fastball hitting team and maybe he could throw that curveball that he’s got and make them miss. I was super-impressed with him.”
Toby Holt allowed just one hit and no runs in 2.1 innings of relief. He walked one, threw a wild pitch and didn’t strike out a batter.
The Falcons only managed three hits and stranded four runners.
“I think we can definitely compete with (Greely) and these guys know it,” Goodrich said. “It was a one-run ballgame, then they had a big hit and a few other things happened. It was a clean ballgame, but a play here, a play there, it could have been a different result. We had baserunners, but we had bad luck. We lined a couple balls at guys and they were playing shallow and took away hits.”
Freeport looks to bounce back from its first loss when it goes to Cape Elizabeth Friday. York comes to town Saturday, then Cape Elizabeth visits Monday.
“We talk about coming together,” Goodrich said. “It’s ‘We Not Me.’ This is good for us, to be honest. We knew a loss would happen. Now we’ve got Cape, York, Cape. The tough games keep rolling. I don’t have any issues with us bouncing back. I know they guys will do that.”
Greely goes to Lake Region Friday, then finally gets to play on its Greely Road Field Wednesday of next week versus Poland.
“We have three home games next week,” Neleski said. “That will be fun.”
Greely senior Will Neleski delivers a pitch as Freeport junior Heath Cockburn takes a lead off third base in the fifth inning.
Greely junior leftfielder Jake MacDonald dives in vain as Freeport senior Toby Holt’s hit drops in for a single.
Greely junior Nick Butler steals second as the throw gets past Freeport junior second baseman Heath Cockburn.
Greely celebrates a fifth inning run.
Freeport 6 @ Greely 2
@ Greely 10 Freeport 6
@ Freeport 3 Greely 1
Class B South semifinals
Freeport 1 @ Greely 0
@ Greely 4 Freeport 1
Greely 11 @ Freeport 4
Greely 12 @ Freeport 4
@ Greely 4 Freeport 2
Greely 15 @ Freeport 3 (6)
@ Greely 5 Freeport 1
@ Greely 14 Freeport 3 (5)
Greely 26 @ Freeport 0 (5)
Greely 7 @ Freeport 1
@ Greely 16 Freeport 10
@ Greely 8 Freeport 3
Greely 10 @ Freeport 1
Western B preliminary
@ Greely 1 Freeport 0