(Ed. Note: For the complete Falmouth-Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth-Greely, Yarmouth-Lincoln Academy and Yarmouth-Greely game stories, visit theforecaster.net)
The Greely and Yarmouth baseball teams had plenty at stake when they squared off Tuesday afternoon.
Not only had the teams split in the regular season and tied in the final Heal Points standings, necessitating a coin toss to determine the No. 1 seed, but more important than bragging rights, the Western Class B championship was on the line.
Since its an odd-numbered year, it’s no surprise that this game went to Greely.
The Rangers scored six times in the third inning and held on for dear life down the stretch for a 7-5 victory.
The 2007 and 2009 Class B champions will have a shot at doing it again Saturday when they meet defending champion Waterville in the Class B title game. Start time is 4 p.m., at St. Joseph’s College in Standish.
Falmouth and North Yarmouth Academy weren’t as fortunate.
The sixth-ranked Yachtsmen upset No. 3 Cape Elizabeth, 2-1, in the Western B quarterfinals, but couldn’t hold a sixth inning lead at Greely in the semifinals and went down to a 8-3 defeat.
The Panthers, ranked fifth in Western C, lost at No. 4 Telstar, 6-3, in the quarterfinals.
There was little to no separation between Greely and Yarmouth in 2011. Each team went 13-3 in the regular season and beat the other at home by one run in dramatic fashion.
After the Clippers earned the coin toss to wind up first in Western B, they appeared to have an easier road to the regional final, but both teams had to deal with challenges from the opposition and Mother Nature.
Yarmouth had a comfortable lead against No. 8 Gray-New Gloucester last Thursday in the quarterfinals, but after a long weather delay, the umpires called the game, even though a softball contest on an adjacent field continued. That wasted a stellar pitching performance from senior Campbell Belisle-Haley, sidelined him from pitching through the weekend and forced the teams to play again Friday. Undaunted, the Clippers blanked the Patriots, 5-0, behind senior Chris Lawlor’s gem. Senior Luke Pierce homered, singled and drove in two runs.
Saturday, Yarmouth was scheduled to host No. 4 Lincoln Academy in the semifinals, but again, the game was postponed in questionable fashion. The teams went at it Monday and the Clippers were on the ropes, down 1-0, without a hit in the bottom of the fifth against Eagles’ senior ace Brandon Reilly, but an error gave them life and an error after a Belisle-Haley double tied the score. In the sixth, juniors Bryce Snyder, Max Grimm and Ryan Cody all had RBI singles and senior lefty Aidan Sullivan completed his two-hitter (he fanned nine) to give Yarmouth a 4-1 win.
“We have 10 seniors who refused to walk off this field for the last time without a victory,” said Yarmouth coach Marc Halsted. “That’s a great example of mental toughness.”
Greely, meanwhile, hosted No. 7 Maranacook Thursday in the quarterfinals and as was the case a few miles away, had a big lead and was poised to close it out before bad weather postponed the game and forced it to be started from scratch. Friday afternoon, the Rangers had their way with the Black Bears. Senior Ben Shain earned the win, while senior Matt Labbe had three hits and two RBI and freshman Bailey Train doubled twice, scored two runs and had an RBI.
Greely got Saturday’s semifinal against No. 6 Falmouth (which had advanced by virtue of an upset quarterfinal win at Cape Elizabeth, keep reading for more on that game) in ahead of the rain, but had to get off the ropes to earn the victory.
The Yachtsmen took a 3-1 lead to the bottom of the sixth, where the Rangers finally came to life, scoring seven times to go on to an 8-3 triumph. An error, wild pitch, walk and hit batsman scored the first four runs. Labbe drove in a run with a single and two more wild pitches accounted for the final score.
“We didn’t press and we didn’t chase pitches and that one big inning good things started to happen,” said Greely coach Derek Soule. “We got base runners, walks, and hit batters. I think the key was that we kept our composure in that inning and didn’t press.”
That set up Tuesday’s battle.
On May 17, the Clippers lost at the Rangers, 5-4. Ten days later, Yarmouth rallied from an early 5-0 deficit to beat visiting Greely, 6-5.
The Clippers had taken two of the three previous postseason meetings, winning in the 2002 preliminary round (8-5, in eight innings) and the 2008 quarterfinals (9-2). The Rangers were triumphant in the 2006 quarterfinals, 12-2, in six innings.
This time, Greely survived.
The Rangers scored six runs on just one hit (a leadoff single from junior Liam Maker) in the top of the third. Greely took advantage of five walks, three hit batters and two wild pitches to seize control. Senior ace Mike Leeman took a no-hitter and a 7-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth, but there, Yarmouth’s bats came alive, producing seven successive hits and five runs. Leeman was able to work out of the jam, then, in the seventh, with the tying run at the plate, he got Sullivan to ground out to third, giving the Rangers the 7-5 victory.
“I tried my hardest,” said Leeman, who walked two and fanned seven. “I give (Yarmouth) props for coming back and battling. They caught up to my fastball and were hitting me good at the end.”
“I was pretty nervous because I’ve seen playoffs turn in our favor very quickly,” Soule said. “I think back to Mountain Valley in (the 2007 semifinals), where we down 6-1 bottom of the seventh and we won.”
Looking ahead to Saturday, Greely has never met Waterville (17-2).
The Rangers are oh so close to another crown, but know they’ll have their hands full.
“We want to win a championship,” Maker said. “We’re going to do our best. We’ll be loud. We’ll be prepared. We’ll come out ready to go.”
Falmouth struggled much of the regular season before capturing six of its final seven and closing on a four-game win streak (late-season victims included Cape Elizabeth, Wells and Yarmouth) to wind up 10-6, good for the No. 6 seed.
The Yachtsmen then upset No. 3 Cape Elizabeth, 2-1, in last Thursday’s quarterfinals. Falmouth went up 2-0 and had to wait out a two-and-a-half hour weather delay before the game resumed. When it did, senior pitcher Dillon Dresser allowed a seventh inning run, but worked out of a jam and closed the door on the 2-1 victory.
“(Dillon) pitched great for five innings and we had that two-hour rain delay, whatever it was, so I went to him and said, ‘How do you feel?’ and he said, ‘Coach, I want the ball.’ ” said Falmouth coach Kevin Winship. “He’s a senior, he’s been our horse, he’s pitching as well as anybody around.”
The Yachtsmen scored a fourth inning run on an error and senior catcher Matt MacDowell drove in the second run with an RBI triple.
Falmouth then couldn’t hold a 3-1 sixth inning lead at Greely in the semis and wound up 11-7 after the 8-3 loss.
“I thought it was a great game, just one bad inning,” said Winship. “It’s kind of been our nemesis all year. One bad inning. I thought that we played five-and-a-half fantastic innings of baseball. We just didn’t get the job done.”
In Western C, NYA rode a late-season five-game win streak to a 12-4 mark and the No. 5 seed in the region. The Panthers drew No. 4 Telstar in the quarterfinals and dropped a tough 6-3 decision. NYA was done in by two home runs from Rebels’ slugger Corey Howard. Tom McGuckin drove in two runs for the Panthers, who scored their third on a wild pitch, but it wasn’t enough as their season ended at 12-5.
“The Telstar game was a tough defeat,” said NYA’s first-year coach Dick Kinsman. “We were outhit 10-6, but the damage was done by one individual. The game was a tug-of-war with a score of 4-3 in the sixth inning until Howard hit a two run shot to centerfield off of Jordan Haskell to make the score 6-3. In the top of the seventh inning, the sky opened up and the rain showers affected any chance we had to come back. Unfortunately we were not able to prevail.
“As a first-year coach at NYA, my goal was to have a winning season and make it to the playoffs. We accomplished both goals and exceeded our expectations. Losing last year’s top two starting pitchers, who pitched the majority of the games, put a heavy burden on a young, inexperienced pitching staff, not to mention the loss of five starting players due to graduation. That accomplishment was even more remarkable, considering that five players were deemed ineligible to play, including three starters due to an honor code violation with five games remaining on the schedule. We won four of our remaining five games with underclassmen.”
The Panthers have shown they can compete with Western C’s best. Next year will be a challenge, however.
“In regards to the future, NYA was not able to field a middle school team this year which does not bode well and five senior starters will be lost due to graduation,” Kinsman said. “Eight boys will be returning. Only two with mound experience. My ace, Ryan Salerno, will be returning to anchor the pitching staff. We will have to develop some pitching prospects as we did this year and pitch by committee. Returning starting position players that should provide some punch to our line-up next year will be Ben Coleman, McGuckin and Salerno.”
Freelance writer Ryan Robb contributed to this story.