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“This was a Forecaster Instant Classic right here.”
Greely coach Derek Soule
CUMBERLAND—The upstart rival refused to go quietly and the defending champions refused to buckle.
And as a result, baseball fans were treated to nearly three hours of palpitating playoff baseball on a sizzling Thursday afternoon at Twin Brook Recreation Center.
Defending Class B state champion Greely, the No. 3 seed for the Western B playoffs, hosted rival Yarmouth, ranked sixth, for the quarterfinals and what proved to be just the latest chapter in the teams’ breathtaking rivalry.
The Rangers had a chance to blow the game open early and while they scored a run against Clippers junior starting pitcher Luke Klenda in the bottom of the first inning on senior centerfielder Miles Shields’ RBI single and tacked on two more in the third on a run-scoring single from senior third baseman Chaz Reade and an RBI double from junior rightfielder Matt Pisini, they also left an abundance of runners on base and that allowed the visitors to hang around.
Yarmouth finally got to Greely senior ace pitcher Will Bryant in the fifth, as junior shortstop Cody Cook came up big with a clutch two-out, two-run single and the Clippers drew even in the sixth when senior third baseman Connor Lainey crushed an RBI double.
The Rangers then left a runner on in the sixth, stranded another in the seventh and left one more in the eighth.
After Bryant was replaced by sophomore Ryan Twitchell in the ninth and Twitchell set Yarmouth down in order, Clippers junior reliever Andrew Kinsman retired the first two hitters in the bottom half, but senior catcher Dylan Fried doubled, junior leftfielder Austin Nowinski and junior second baseman Justin Leeman drew walks to load the bases and that set the stage for junior first baseman Caleb Normandeau to play the role of hero, blooping a single to left-center to score Fried with the winning run as Greely survived and advanced, 4-3.
The Rangers left 17 runners on base, but managed to improve to 12-5, end Yarmouth’s season at 8-9 and advance to meet No. 2 York in the semifinals Saturday at a time to be announced.
“It’s both relief and exhilaration,” said Greely coach Derek Soule. “It’s a good reminder of how special the high school playoffs can be and why we keep doing it all these years.”
Last spring, Greely blanked Yarmouth, 4-0, in the quarterfinals and that established an improbable trend in which the Rangers didn’t allow a single run en route to the Class B championship.
This spring, Greely was mortal, losing five times, but the Rangers still managed to win some key games and earn the No. 3 seed in Western B.
Yarmouth was up-and-down and wound up sixth with an 8-8 mark.
Greely won the lone regular season encounter, 11-2, May 6 in Yarmouth.
The teams had met five times in the playoffs dating back to 2002 with the Rangers holding a 3-2 edge (see sidebar, below).
Thursday, with the game-time temperature reading 87 degrees, the teams played at a plodding pace and took nearly three hours to determine a survivor.
Bryant got some help from Reade to start the game, as Reade dove to snag a shot from Clippers junior first baseman Conor O’Donnell before throwing him out. After Bryant hit Cook with a pitch, he got Klenda to swing at strike three and ended the first by inducing a ground out to short off the bat of senior rightfielder Jordan Brown.
In the bottom half, Greely got on the board, but could have really opened up more of a lead.
Leeman led off with a single to center on the first pitch he saw from Klenda. Normandeau drew a walk and when ball four was missed by junior catcher Jack Snyder for a passed ball, Leeman took third. Shields then hinted at a big day to come with a single to right-center, bringing home Leeman and putting runners at the corners. After Shields stole second, the Rangers had a great opportunity to break it open early, but with junior Tyler Waaler warming up, Klenda bore down and fanned Bryant on a 3-2 pitch, struck out junior shortstop Cal Soule and after walking Reade, got Pisini to ground out to first to end the first inning with the score still 1-0.
Bryant was dominant in the second, fanning both junior leftfielder C.J. Cawley and Snyder looking before getting Lainey to ground harmlessly to second.
Klenda retired the first two hitters in the bottom half, getting Fried to ground out to second and Nowinski to fly to right, but Leeman reached when Kinsman dropped his line drive for an error. Klenda then got Normandeau to chase strike three to end the frame.
Bryant started the third by striking out both sophomore designated hitter Gibby Harnett and Kinsman swinging. O’Donnell then lined a single past Reade down the third base line, but Cook grounded out to second to end it.
The hosts got some breathing room in the bottom half, but as it turned out, it wasn’t enough.
Shields singled sharply to center to start the frame and stole second. Bryant grounded out with Kinsman making a nice stab, but Soule drew a walk and stole second and Reade came through with a single to right-center, scoring Shields to make it 2-0 and putting runners at the corners. Pisini then doubled to left-center, bringing home Soule with the third run. Reade stopped at third. Both runners were stranded, however, as senior pinch-hitter Andrew Therriault struck out looking and Nowinski was hit by a pitch, but was called out instead, being ruled to have not made an effort to get out of the way.
Bryant made quick work of Yarmouth in the fourth, as he got Klenda to fly to center, Brown to ground out to third and Cawley to bounce out to short.
In the bottom half, Leeman struck out and Normandeau grounded out to O’Donnell, who made a nice play before flipping to Klenda for the out. Shields then beat out an infield hit, moved to second on a wild pitch and Klenda hit Bryant, but Klenda caught Soule looking at strike three.
The Clippers finally broke through in the fifth.
The trouble began when Snyder struck out leading off, but strike three got past Fried, allowing Synder to reach. Lainey lined an infield single off Leeman and Harnett lined a single to load the bases, but Bryant got Kinsman to fly out to shallow center, then got O’Donnell to ground into a third-to-home force.
Cook then came through with a seeing-eye single into the hole between third and short and both Lainey and Harnett scored (Harnett with a dive to elude Fried’s tag) and the deficit was only 3-2.
It was the first time Greely had allowed a run in the playoffs since a 5-1 semifinal round loss to York two years ago.
Bryant then got Harnett to ground out to first to end the frame, but the visitors had life.
In the bottom half, Reade grounded out to third, but Pisini beat out an infield hit, stole second and Fried reached on a bloop hit (with Pisini holding at second). Senior pinch-hitter Zak Novak popped out to O’Donnell, who dove to catch the little looper, and after the runners pulled off a double-steal and Leeman walked to load the bases, Normandeau popped out to third to end the threat, as Greely left the bases loaded for the second time.
Yarmouth then pulled even in the sixth.
Brown led off with a single to left and Cawley laid down a sacrifice bunt which Bryant threw away to put runners at the corners. After pushing an attempted squeeze bunt just foul, Snyder struck out, but Lainey ripped a double to left-center and the game was tied, 3-3.
The Clippers had the go-ahead runners on, but Harnett failed to lay down a bunt on a 1-2 pitch and struck out and junior pinch-hitter Joe Defusco struck out as well.
Regardless, the game was deadlocked.
“We’d scored one run in the previous 19 innings over three games and that run was on a passed ball, so for us to fight back and get three runs was huge,” said Yarmouth coach Marc Halsted. “We’d been offensively challenged.”
Greely threatened to go back on top in the bottom of the sixth, as after junior centerfielder Grant Gilman made a terrific running stab to rob Shields of a hit, Bryant singled to center on an 0-2 pitch and Soule beat out a bunt hit.
That was it for Klenda, who was replaced by Kinsman, who came in and threw exactly one pitch to get out of trouble. Reade made solid contact, but hit the ball right at new second baseman, sophomore Chris Romano, and Romano threw to Cook for what proved to be an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
After O’Donnell struck out to start the seventh, Cook gave Yarmouth a spark with a single to left-center, but Klenda fanned and after Cook stole second, Brown struck out as well.
The Rangers had a chance to win the game in the bottom half, but again couldn’t get the key hit.
Kinsman got Pisini to ground out to third on a 3-2 pitch and induced a fly to center off the bat of Fried on a 3-2 pitch. Nowinski then reached on a bloop single to right and moved into scoring position on a passed ball, but Leeman grounded to Cook, who made a nice stab and Klenda, now playing first, made a highlight reel scoop on the low throw to send the game to extra innings.
Bryant’s final inning saw him get Cawley to ground out to second, Snyder to foul out to Nowinski down the leftfield line (Nowinski overran the ball, but reached back to make an impressive catch) and Lainey to ground out to second.
Greely again threatened in the bottom of the eighth.
After Normandeau grounded out to third, Shields reached on a wild throw from Cook. After Bryant flew out to left, Shields stole second, but Soule struck out and it was on to the ninth.
Bryant had exceeded the 110-pitch limit and was replaced by Twitchell, who didn’t miss a beat, fanning Harnett looking, getting Kinsman to pop out to third and blowing strike three past pinch-hitter Waaler.
That set the stage for the dramatic ending.
Kinsman appeared in good shape when he struck out Reade, then fanned Twitchell on a 3-2 pitch, but Fried got the rally started with a double down the leftfield line. Nowinski worked a walk and Leeman did the same.
“Justin did a great job being disciplined,” Derek Soule said. “It would have been easy for him to try to play the hero and chase something off the plate.”
That brought Normandeau to the plate with an opportunity to join the pantheon of Rangers’ postseason heroes.
Normandeau didn’t make great contact, but he blooped a ball out toward left-center and even though Cawley made a valiant dive, he couldn’t quite reach it, it fell for a single and Fried scored easily to finally end the game after 2 hours, 53 minutes.
“I wouldn’t say I’m the hero,” Normandeau said. “I just tried to put the ball in play. When it hit the bat, I put my head down and started running and hoped for the best. I looked up, saw (Cawley) dive for it, stepped on first and Justin ran right at me. I’d been frustrated. I popped up with the bases loaded, so it was nice personally to come through at the end of the game.”
“It took just one little hit to find some green grass in the outfield,” said Derek Soule. “It might not have been the hardest hit ball of the day, but it was the most welcome. I told Caleb not too long ago that he’s a big-game player. I’ve seen it from him in other sports and at younger levels.”
Greely had outlasted Yarmouth in nine innings, 4-3.
“We expected a great game from Yarmouth, our crosstown rival,” Normandeau said.
“It absolutely was worth the wait,” Bryant said. “We’re really pumped. We came together as a team and that’s what it takes. We’ll carry this through the rest of the playoffs. We know what it takes to win in the playoffs. We felt some frustration, but we came out with a win and that’s all that matters.”
“I was incredibly frustrated, but we didn’t give up,” Derek Soule added. “The guys kept battling and getting runners into scoring position. Yarmouth has a lot of grit as well. You expect them to make a run and they did. They have kids who have had success in different sports. They know what it takes.”
The Rangers got three hits from Shields and two apiece from Fried and Pisini as part of their 13-hit attack. Fried, Leeman, Shields and Cal Soule scored the runs. Normandeau, Pisini, Reade and Shields all had one RBI. Greely stole eight bases, sparked by three from Shields and a pair from Pisini. The Rangers left 17 runners on, but still prevailed.
“I’m really proud of the team in terms of their grit and determination,” Derek Soule said. “We’ve talked a lot during the week off about playing with grit and I saw it today. We had a lot of opportunities and didn’t deliver. it would have been easy to hang our heads, but we dug deep today.”
Bryant reminded everyone why he’s the Rangers’ ace, allowing three runs (two earned) on seven hits and no walks in eight innings. He hit a batter, but fanned a dozen.
“I settled down a little too much and they got to me, but we battled and we won,” Bryant said. “In a close game, it’s always hard to give the ball up, but it’s what was best.”
“Will was able to find a way to get us through,” Derek Soule said. “He was really good. They didn’t hit the ball hard off him. I’d have loved to keep him in it, but his pitch count got up over 110. His health is more important. He has a college career in front of him.”
Twitchell dazzled in his short varsity playoff debut, not allowing a hit and striking out two in his one inning of work. Twitchell got the victory and improved to 4-2.
“I was really impressed with Ryan,” Derek Soule said. “You never know, a sophomore making his varsity playoff debut. I’ve seen plenty of times kids crumble under that pressure in an intense game, but he came in and pounded the mitt.”
Yarmouth, as always, went down scrapping. The Clippers got multiple hits from Cook and Lainey, two RBI from Cook and another from Lainey and runs from Brown, Harnett and Snyder. Yarmouth stranded seven runners.
Klenda got a no-decision after giving up three runs (two earned) on 10 hits and four walks in 5.1 innings. He struck out seven, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch.
“He pitched out of a hole,” Halsted said. “He was only 8-of-20 on first-pitch strikes at one point. They went single, walk and single in the first and I had Waaler get going.”
Kinsman was the hard-luck loser, falling to 2-2 after giving up one earned run on three hits 3.1 innings. He walked two and fanned three.
“At the end of the day, we care about playing with character and being mentally and physically tough,” Halsted said. “I was talking to Derek about how his son plays. He’s such an honorable kid. I love competing against kids like that. That’s what makes it fun. Competing against kids who play hard and have respect for the game and I think our kids have that too. I want to win. I love to win, but this is high school sports and we have young men who play with character and that’s the best blessing of being a coach. I have kids who are better people for being around this group. Everyone contributes. Everyone’s important.”
Five seniors, including Brown, Gilman and Lainey, depart, but Yarmouth should be very competitive again in 2016.
“We need to step up,” Halsted said. “This is not an eight-win team. We’re going to be better.”
Greely will go to second-ranked York (13-4 following its win over No. 10 Gray-New Gloucester in the quarterfinals) for Saturday’s semifinal. The Rangers beat the host Wildcats, 8-6, May 27.
Greely has faced York twice previously in the playoffs, winning, 6-1, in the 2009 quarterfinals and losing, 5-1, in the 2013 semifinals.
Twitchell will get the ball for the Rangers.
“Everyone on the team has the same goal, to make another run in the playoffs,” Normandeau said. “We’ll expect a tough game. I think we’re in good hands with Ryan throwing.”
“I feel we’re still a championship-caliber team,” said Bryant. “We had more losses than we’ve had in the past, but we have experience and we know how to do it. It’s going to be a good game. We have to keep the same intensity and I think we can beat them.”
“York is going to be a really tough opponent,” Derek Soule added. “They swing the bats really well. They have a group of kids who won a championship a couple years ago and quite a few of them are still on the team. York knows what it takes. It should be a battle.”
Greely senior starter Will Bryant throws a pitch. Bryant went eight strong innings, but didn’t get a decision.
Yarmouth junior starting pitcher Luke Klenda fires to the plate.
Yarmouth junior Cody Cook steals second as Greely junior Justin Leeman takes the throw.
Yarmouth junior Jack Snyder dives into second as Greely junior Justin Leeman takes a pickoff throw.
Greely junior Caleb Normandeau makes contact. Normandeau later drove home the decisive run.
Yarmouth junior first baseman Conor O’Donnell dives to make a catch.
Greely junior Matt Pisini steals third as Yarmouth senior third baseman Connor Lainey takes the throw.
Greely sophomore catcher Dylan Fried holds the ball for the umpire to see, but Yarmouth sophomore Gibby Harnett is called safe at the plate after diving around the tag to pull the Clippers within 3-2 in the top of the fifth inning.
Greely senior centerfielder Miles Shields lines one of his three hits.
Greely sophomore Ryan Twitchell fires a strike during his 1-2-3 relief stint in the top of the ninth. Twitchell earned the victory.
Greely sophomore catcher Dylan Fried crosses home with the winning run.
2014 Western B quarterfinals
@ Greely 4 Yarmouth 0
2011 Western B Final
Greely 7 Yarmouth 5
2008 Western B quarterfinals
Yarmouth 9 @ Greely 2
2006 Western B quarterfinals
@ Greely 12 Yarmouth 2 (six innings)
2002 Western B preliminary round
Yarmouth 8 @ Greely 5 (eight innings)
Greely’s baseball team celebrates its 4-3 nine-inning win over Yarmouth in Thursday’s Western Class B quarterfinal. The Rangers advanced to face York in Saturday’s semifinals.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
Y- 000 021 000- 3 7 3
G- 102 000 001- 4 13 0
Shields singled to right-center, Leeman scored.
Reade singled to right-center, Shields scored. Pisini doubled to left-center, Soule scored.
Cook singled to left, Lainey and Harnett scored.
Lainey doubled to right-center, Brown scored.
Normandeau singled to left-center, Fried scored.
Y- Cook, Lainey
G- Shields 3, Fried, Pisini
Y- Brown, Harnett, Lainey
G- Fried, Leeman, Shields, Soule
Y- Cook 2, Lainey
G- Normandeau, Pisini, Reade, Shields
G- Fried, Pisini
G- Shields 3, Pisini 2, Fried, Leeman, Soule
Left on base:
Klenda, Kinsman (6) and Snyder; Bryant, Twitchell (9) and Fried
Klenda 5.1 IP 10 H 3 R 2 ER 4 BB 7 K 1 HBP 1 WP
Kinsman (L, 2-2) 3.1 IP 3 H 1 R 1 ER 2 BB 3 K
Bryant 8 IP 7 H 3 R 2 ER 0 BB 12 K 1 HBP
Twitchell (W, 4-2) 1 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 2 K