FALMOUTH—Baseball is a game of inches and never was that more true than in the fourth inning of Saturday afternoon’s Greely at Falmouth baseball showdown.
In the top of the frame, with two down, Rangers senior first baseman Luke Saffian somehow managed to place a bloop hit just over the head of Yachtsmen junior first baseman Andrew Emple and just inside the rightfield line to plate two runs.
Then, in the bottom half, after Falmouth cut its deficit in half on a booming Emple double, sophomore shortstop Will D’Agostino’s bloop toward left-center appeared ticketed to drop and tie the score, but Greely senior shortstop Will McAdoo drifted out and made a staggering catch. Rangers senior ace Mike Leeman went on to retire the side.
The Yachtsmen threatened again in the fifth and the seventh innings, putting the tying and winning runs on in the final frame, but Leeman finally brought an end to the entertaining, taut contest by catching Falmouth junior designated hitter Seamus Powers looking at strike three and Greely held on, 2-1, in a tidy 90 minutes, improved to 11-1 and handed the Yachtsmen their first defeat in 12 outings this spring.
“Bottom line, we say all the time, pitching and defense will put us in a position to win every game, even against top teams in our league, which was the case today,” said Rangers coach Derek Soule.
Considering Greely’s the reigning Western Class B champion and a perennial power and Falmouth is off to its best start since joining Class B at the start of the century, Saturday’s contest was the most highly anticipated regular season game in Falmouth in many years.
The Yachtsmen, semifinalists last year before falling to Greely, 8-3, have stolen headlines from the get-go in 2012. Falmouth opened with an 8-2 victory at York, then downed visiting Cape Elizabeth (10-5), host Fryeburg (11-1, in six innings), host Gray-New Gloucester (6-0), visiting Lake Region (8-2), host Poland (8-4), visiting Wells (2-1), Freeport (5-4, in nine innings), in a game played at The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach, host Yarmouth (5-0), visiting Poland (7-0, behind senior Nick Spencer’s no-hitter) and host Traip (11-1, in six innings) to make it 11 straight.
Greely, which fell a run short of the Class B title in 2011, 1-0, to Waterville, entered this spring as the prohibitive favorite in the region and early on, eviscerated the opposition, tying a program record for runs scored in a 28-0 shutout of host Lake Region in the opener (behind a perfect game from junior Jonah Normandeau), blanking visiting Sacopee the next time out, 10-0, behind a no-hitter from sophomore Bailey Train, then dominating host Fryeburg (7-2), visiting Cape Elizabeth (8-0) and host Wells (9-1).
The going started to get tougher, but the Rangers managed to keep winning, defeating visiting Freeport (4-2), host York (4-2) and Yarmouth (3-1), in a game played in Old Orchard Beach. After a 9-2 victory at Gray-New Gloucester Monday, Greely was upset at Yarmouth Thursday, 4-3.
The Rangers bounced back with a vengeance Friday, winning, 17-0, at Waynflete.
In that one, Greely scored twice in the first inning, seven times in both the second and third and once in the fourth as freshman Will Bryant sparkled in his varsity debut, allowing just one hit and three walks in five shutout innings, striking out 11 along the way. Liam Maker sparked the offense with three hits, including a booming home run to dead centerfield, three runs scored and six RBI.
“It was awesome to finally get up here and play with varsity,” said Bryant. “My fastball was working for me today and so was my curveball. I got a lot of support. That got me through.”
“The guys got a little confidence back,” said Soule. “We got a lot of baserunners and played everyone. The big thing for me is I was looking for an opportunity to unveil Will Bryant. I knew he was capable of this. Any other year, he’s in my rotation. I had a lot of confidence in him. He hit 81 miles per hour. He’s a 14-year-old freshman. He’ll be with the varsity the rest of the way.”
That set the stage for Saturday’s high noon showdown. Over the past decade, Greely had won 14 of 18 meetings against Falmouth (please see sidebar), including two of three a year ago.
This time, the Rangers eked out the victory.
Greely had a great chance to produce an early lead when Leeman drew a leadoff walk on four pitches and senior third baseman Liam Maker walked on five, but Falmouth junior starter Thomas Fortier bore down and induced a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of Rangers senior catcher Pete Stauber and caught Train looking at strike three to escape the jam.
Leeman fanned Yachtsmen junior second baseman Drew Proctor and Powers to start of the bottom of the first, but senior centerfielder Grayson Beressi singled to right and Emple reached on an error. Leeman managed his own escape act when he got D’Agostino to ground out unassisted to Maker.
Fortier had his best inning in the second, catching Normandeau looking at strike three, getting McAdoo to pop to second and fanning senior second baseman Brad McKenney swinging.
With two outs in the bottom of the frame, senior catcher Jeremy Lydick, in his first game back from injury, doubled over the head of Greely sophomore rightfielder Sam Porter, but Leeman picked him off, throwing to Maker for the forecout and the game remained scoreless.
In the top of the third, with two outs and no one on, Leeman walked and stole second on an attempted pickoff and when Maker took ball three, Leeman stole third base as well. Stauber made good contact, but lined to senior rightfielder Ryan Conley.
Leeman set the hosts down in order in the bottom of half and in the fourth, the Rangers broke the ice.
Train led things off by grounding a base hit up the middle for Greely’s first hit. Normandeau walked and McAdoo sacrificed the runners up a base. When Fortier struck out McKenney, it appeared he might escape the jam, but Saffian delivered his bloop single to right to put the Rangers ahead, 2-0.
“Coach talked about (Fortier) being a lefty and that I usually pull the ball, so I just tried to stay inside of it,” said Saffian. “I got underneath it a little bit, but it fell in. I thought it would go foul or get caught. I was pretty happy when I watched it bounce fair.”
“We were in position where we got a break, dropped one in and won the game,” Soule said.
“Their number 8 batter hits a fly ball down the line out in no-man’s land,” said Yachtsmen coach Kevin Winship. “I asked my first baseman how close was it and he said about a foot. There’s nothing you can do about it. It bounced and kicked away and they scored two runs.”
Falmouth had a great opportunity to tie the score or even go ahead in the bottom half.
Beressi led off by grounding to McAdoo, whose throw to first was high, allowing Beressi to steam into second base. Emple then launched a rocket to deep left. Off the bat, it appeared like it might be a game-tying home run, but the ball short-hopped the fence, Beressi scored easily and Emple stopped at second with an RBI double.
“When he first hit it, I thought it was out of here,” said Winship.
D’Agostino then blooped a ball toward leftfield, but McAdoo went back and managed to snare the flare and register the first out, while Emple had to stay at second.
“That one liner, I forgot about everything and just made the catch,” McAdoo said. “I was a little sketched out. I thought it was easily going over me. I got up and tried to catch it and fortunately, I made the catch.”
“(McAdoo) made an unbelievable play,” said Winship. “If that drops, it’s a 2-2 game.”
Spencer followed by squibbing the ball to the right of the mound, but Leeman pounced on it and threw him out by a step as Emple moved to third. He never got any further as sophomore Addison Foltmer took a called third strike.
That would be it for scoring, but both teams had their chances in the final three innings.
Leeman was hit by a pitch to start the fifth and despite a pickoff throw from Fortier, stole second.
“I was going on the first move,” said Leeman. “(Fortier’s) a lefty, so it’s hard to get a good read. I didn’t even know he threw over.”
Maker bunted Leeman to third, but Stauber lined out to D’Agostino and Train took a called third strike to end the inning.
In the bottom half, Lydick led off with a bloop single to center. With one down, Proctor walked, but Powers’ bunt was turned into a 1-5 force by Leeman and Beressi was fooled by a pitch and hit a soft liner to Saffian to end the threat.
In the top of the sixth, Normandeau walked leading off, but McAdoo’s attempted bunt was snared by Lydick, who fired to first to catch Normandeau for a double play. Fortier struck out McKenney to end it.
In the bottom half, both Emple and D’Agostino hit slow rollers to McAdoo, but both were called out on bang-bang plays at first.
“The first one was a little iffy, but the second I thought was out,” said McAdoo.
“Those plays were very close,” Winship said. “That’s baseball. I may disagree, but they were called out.”
Leeman then got Spencer to hit a routine grounder to McKenney and the game went to the seventh inning.
In the top of that frame, junior pinch-hitter Pat Finnegan walked with one down and Porter re-entered the game and was sacrificed to second, but Maker struck out and Falmouth was still within a run with three outs to go.
Leeman struck out both Foltmer and Lydick to start the bottom of the seventh, but No. 9 hitter Conley walked and Proctor did the same to keep hope alive before Powers took a called third strike and that did it.
Greely 2 Falmouth 1.
“We got Falmouth at the same level as us,” Saffian said. “It feels good to be the team to give them that first loss.”
“I was expecting a close game,” said McAdoo. “We were ready to come in and do what we do best and fortunately we won. We love the good competition. It makes us prepared for what we need to look for in the playoffs.”
“That was one heck of a high school baseball game between two unbelievable teams right now,” Winship said. “It was fun to be a part of. It was a pitcher’s duel. It was a four-hitter against a two-hitter. I told the guys you didn’t lose by a run, you lost by a foot. Nobody should be hanging their heads. Tip your hat to (Greely). They played a great game. The game lived up to what people talked about. We had two of the top pitchers. We lived and died with the timely hit. It’s baseball. We didn’t get it today. You don’t want to have a loss, but the way we played today just shows we’re a very good team in this league. Greely is too. We lost to a good team.”
The Rangers only had two hits, but still mustered enough offense to win. Normandeau and Train both scored runs, while Saffian had both RBI. Leeman had three steals.
On the hill, Leeman lived up to his reputation as one of the state’s premier big-game hurlers, allowing just one run on four hits and three walks. He struck out 10 as he improved to 3-0.
“It was really close, a really good game,” said Leeman. “I just tried to throw strikes and get outs. It was a nice day out and both teams were pumped up. My arm was a little sore before the game, but I fought through it. We weren’t happy after (the Yarmouth) loss. We knew we had to come in here and show everyone we’re back. I just tried to do my thing no matter what. I didn’t really study anyone.”
“(Mike) is the most confident player I’ve ever met,” said McAdoo. “I like his cockiness. He just shows up and pitches. He has a lot of intensity. He pitches his heart out. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t really worried. I was expecting a strikeout (to end it). That’s how dominant he is. That’s Mike Leeman.”
“Mike’s a big game pitcher,” Soule added. “It’s one of the better games I’ve seen him throw. He pounded the zone. He was in a nice rhythm. It was a pretty tight strike zone, but he still threw a lot of strikes. It’s the best he’s been this year.”
Falmouth just couldn’t produce enough offense to stay unbeaten. Lydick did have two hits, Beressi scored the run and Emple doubled and had an RBI.
Fortier was the hard-luck loser, falling to 2-1 after surrendering two runs on two hits. He did walk seven and hit a batter and struck out seven.
“I thought Thomas was excellent,” Winship said. “He was lights out. We couldn’t get him that extra run. He had some command issues, but got them under control. He got the ball down. He got his breaking ball over. He got some big strikeouts. Thomas gave up two hits against Yarmouth and two against Greely. I can’t ask more than that. “
“Falmouth is a very impressive team,” Soule said. “I was really impressed with (Fortier). He had great composure.”
Falmouth (third behind Greely and Morse in the Western Class B Heal Points standings) is back in action Tuesday in Old Orchard against Cape Elizabeth in a Coaches versus Cancer benefit. The Yachtsmen also host Yarmouth and Gray-New Gloucester and play at Freeport (in a game moved from Monday to next Saturday at 10 a.m.)
“Our goal right now is to get into a bracket where we meet (Greely in the regional final),” said Winship. “I think our guys are looking forward to another shot at those guys in playoffs.”
Greely is home the rest of the regular season schedule, against Wells, York, Poland and Fryeburg.
The Rangers now have the inside track for the top seed.
“We have to keep working and winning games,” said Saffian.
“We have to keep working,” said McAdoo. “All our games are at home. We hope to finish strong and get that No. 1 spot.”
“I think it puts us in position to get either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed and host the first two games, which is our goal every time we set out,” Soule added.
@ Falmouth 7 Greely 5
@ Greely 4 Falmouth 3 (8)
Greely 9 @ Falmouth 3
@ Greely 10 Falmouth 9
Falmouth 8 @ Greely 5
Greely 12 @ Falmouth 8
@ Greely 7 Falmouth 2
Greely 5 @ Falmouth 1
Greely 2 @ Falmouth 1
Falmouth 5 @ Greely 4 (8)
Western B semifinals
@ Greely 4 Falmouth 2
@ Greely 4 Falmouth 3 (8)
@ Falmouth 3 Greely 2 (8)
Greely 5 @ Falmouth 1
@ Greely 10 Falmouth 8