OLD ORCHARD BEACH—Greely’s defending regional champion baseball team entered the week winners of five games by a composite 62-3 score, wondering how it would respond to a test.
After three two-run victories in five days, the Rangers have proved they can win games by any means necessary.
Friday night at The Ballpark, Greely didn’t muster a single base runner in the first four innings against Yarmouth junior Chester Jacobs, but only trailed 1-0 thanks to a strong effort from senior starter Mike Leeman.
Then, in the fifth, the Rangers broke through with their first base runner and first hit, an RBI single from senior second baseman Brad McKenney, which drove in the tying run.
In the bottom of the sixth, with two outs and no one on, senior third baseman Liam Maker, who had allowed the Clippers to score their lone run in the third inning with a throwing error, reached base on an error, stole second and after senior catcher Pete Stauber was walked intentionally, sophomore designated hitter Bailey Train hit a seemingly harmless fly ball to right-centerfield, but confusion in the outfield allowed it to drop and both runners scored.
Leeman slammed the door in the seventh and Greely improved to 8-0 with a 3-1 victory, dropping Yarmouth to 5-3.
“I’m fine with close games,” said Rangers coach Derek Soule. “It’s important to learn how to play under pressure. Now matter how good of a hitting team you have, you’ll have a lull offensively during a season. We’re in that now, but we’re grinding out wins.”
While Greely has the stronger pedigree, Yarmouth has gone toe-to-toe with the Rangers in recent seasons.
Last year was a perfect example. Each team managed to win at home by a run before Greely held off the Clippers, 7-5, in the Western B Final.
The Rangers went on to lose, 1-0, to Waterville in the Class B state championship game.
Greely opened 2012 on a tear with a 28-0 victory at Lake Region, a 10-0 shutout of Sacopee, a 7-2 win over Fryeburg, an 8-0 blanking of Cape Elizabeth and a 10-1 triumph over Wells. Earlier this week, however, against Freeport and York, the Rangers managed to win both games by 4-2 scores.
Yarmouth lost a huge chunk of its varsity experience after last year’s regional final setback and started 2012 with losses to Freeport (11-1, in a game which saw the Clippers no-hit) and Wells (4-3). Yarmouth then put it together and in a five-game stretch easily handled Lake Region (13-3), Old Orchard Beach (13-0), Gray-New Gloucester (12-2), Poland (15-4) and Fryeburg (6-0). The first four victories in that stretch were all ended by the mercy rule.
Friday night, Yarmouth had a chance to extend its win streak to six, but the Rangers did just enough to survive.
Leeman, who loves the big stage and pitching under the lights, simply blew away the Clippers in the first inning, getting junior centerfielder Caleb Uhl to look at strike three, fanning senior leftfielder Eamon Costello, then catching junior shortstop Thomas Sullivan looking at a third strike to fan the side.
“I struggled with a tight strike zone,” Leeman said. “I just tried to put them in (the umpire’s) zone. They chased pitches in the first inning. They helped me out a little.”
Jacobs was very impressive in his first inning of work as well, even if he wasn’t throwing the same kind of heat. Jacobs caught Leeman looking, then induced a pair of ground balls from Maker and Stauber and the game was scoreless after one.
Leeman hit senior third baseman Bryce Snyder to start the top of the second and senior second baseman Ryan Cody squibbed a single between the first and second basemen into rightfield to seemingly key a rally, but Snyder tried to reach third on the hit and he was gunned down by Greely sophomore rightfielder Sam Porter, who delivered a strike to Maker at third. Junior designated hitter Nick Lainey followed with a base on balls, but Leeman got junior catcher Cal Cooper to ground out to short and ended the threat by striking out senior first baseman Max Grimm.
Jacobs made quick work of the Rangers in the bottom half, getting Train to fly out to center, junior leftfielder Jonah Normandeau to hit a fly ball to right and striking out McKenney.
The Clippers broke through in the top of the third.
Jacobs led off by beating out an infield hit up the middle. Uhl sacrificed Jacobs to second and after Costello struck out, Sullivan rapped a grounder to Maker. Maker, perhaps hearing the footsteps of Jacobs heading toward him near third, threw high over the head of senior Luke Saffian at first base and Jacobs scored, while Sullivan moved to second.
“At the moment, I had to get over it really quick, but in the back of my mind I was hoping to get a chance to redeem myself,” said Maker, who would.
Leeman escaped further damage by getting Snyder to ground out, but Yarmouth had a 1-0 lead.
Jacobs made that advantage seem even larger by the way he threw in the bottom of the third, striking out senior shortstop Will McAdoo, inducing a ground out to second by Saffian and throwing Porter out at first in a close play after a bunt.
The Clippers got a leadoff single from Cody in the fourth, but Lainey hit a grounder to Saffian, who threw to McAdoo for one out and McAdoo’s return throw to Leeman covering completed a double play. Cooper then tried to bunt for a hit, but Maker made a nice play and barely threw out the runner to keep it 1-0.
In the bottom half, Leeman struck out swinging, Maker grounded out to third and Stauber hit a ground ball to short and Jacobs was perfect through four innings.
Jacobs walked with one out in the top of the fifth and Costello beat out an infield hit with two down, but Leeman, after throwing a wild pitch, got Sullivan to chase at a high pitch for strike three, retiring the side.
That set the stage for the Rangers to finally get to Jacobs and tie the score.
Train ended the perfect game bid by walking on a 3-2 pitch leading off the bottom of the fifth. Jacobs struck out Normandeau, but junior pinch runner Nick Dunnett stole second and a passed ball moved him to third. McKenney then came through with a single just to the left of Cody and the game was tied. Jacobs retired the next two hitters, but Greely had momentum.
Leeman set the Clippers down in order in the sixth, capping the inning by catching Lainey looking at strike three.
Then, in the bottom of the inning, the Rangers completed their comeback.
Porter struck out to start the frame and Leeman hit a slow roller to third and was barely thrown out at first. When Maker checked his swing and hit the ball to second base, it appeared the inning would be over, but Cody couldn’t come up with it and Greely had life.
“It was a 2-2 count and I was thinking curveball,” Maker said. “For some reason, I didn’t follow through on my swing. It got through his legs and I got to first base. I was lucky. I thought I got things going a little bit. The guys got a little louder. That changed things, I think.”
Maker stole second and was in scoring position with Stauber at the plate.
“I got a steal sign 1-0 and the pitcher came set for like 10 seconds and I couldn’t get a good read and didn’t go,” said Maker. “I got the sign again and I got a good jump and got there, thankfully.”
Stauber would be walked intentionally, setting the stage for Train.
Train made good contact and many on hand thought the ball might be hit over Uhl’s head in center, but instead, it was just a lazy fly ball slightly to Uhl’s left. Uhl came over to catch it, then noticed junior rightfielder Mark Brown was standing right there and the ball dropped between them.
Home came Maker and home came Stauber and Train’s double had given the Rangers a 3-1 lead.
“It was a big spot, obviously,” said Train. “You think about that a lot. A double wasn’t exactly what I was thinking in my mind, but it dropped in and I got the job done. I don’t know it was the atmosphere or the lights, but the first time through the order, we couldn’t do anything. The second time through, we had better cuts. (Jacobs) pitched well and kept us off balance.”
“When he drove it, if it was any other place, I thought it was going to go to the wall,” said Maker. “I was just sprinting around third. Halfway around the third base line I looked and saw it drop and breathed a big sigh of relief.”
“That was my fault,” said Clippers coach Marc Halsted. “I moved my rightfielder 50 to 65 feet to right-center, assuming their cleanup hitter would pull the ball in a hitter’s count. I didn’t tell my centerfielder. Caleb had no idea Mark was there. It’s 100 percent on me. Caleb was shocked when Mark was right next to him.”
Yarmouth had one final chance and Cooper walked on a 3-2 pitch to start the seventh, but Grimm struck out looking, Jacobs hit into a first-to-short force play (which almost turned into another double play) and Leeman ended the game by catching Uhl looking at strike three, the 11th K of the evening for the Greely ace.
“I was concerned because our guys had some struggles at the plate,” said Soule. “It was a combination of the first time we saw him, he had a different delivery and we had trouble picking up the ball out of his hand since it was a night game. We took better swings the last couple innings. It’s not just about out-hitting them. It’s about making more defensive plays. We might have made more defensive plays. We’re playing good defense as a whole. Sam’s throw took them out of an inning. Lima did a nice job on a slow roller. We had a 3-6-3 double play. Those are all big plays in a low scoring game.”
Greely only mustered two hits, the Train double and McKenney’s single. Dunnett, Maker and Stauber all scored. Train had two RBI, McKenney one. Dunnett, Maker and Stauber all had stolen bases.
Leeman improved to 2-0. He only allowed four hits and three walks and didn’t surrender an earned run. He had a wild pitch, struck out 11 and went the distance.
“I got a little nervous, but I knew I had to go out there and throw strikes,” said Leeman. “I’ve pitched here a couple times and I like it.”
“I don’t remember (Yarmouth) having any hard-hit balls,” Soule said. “Mike looked like his old self. It was only his second start. He likes pitching against the rivals. He pitches with a lot of emotion. He likes pitching under the lights.”
“Leeman did a phenomenal job tonight,” said Halsted. “He threw 40 pitches in two innings and he competed for five more innings. He should be recognized for that. He gave up somewhat of a cheap run and kept battling. Good for him.”
For Yarmouth, Cody was a multiple hitter. Jacobs had the team’s lone run and also stole a base. On the mound, Jacobs (2-2) gave up three unearned runs on just two hits with two walks and six strikeouts in six innings.
(Chester’s) going to battle,” Halsted said. “He throws 76, 77 (miles per hour), but he’s cerebral and knows how to compete. He’s a pitcher, not a thrower. It was great to see.”
Despite the sting of the loss, Halsted was pleased with his team’s effort and the direction in which the Clippers are heading.
“(Greely) should be 16-0 and we stood toe-to-toe with them,” Halsted said. “Both of us made a few mistakes tonight. Ours hurt us a little bit more. We’re a nice baseball team. All 13 juniors, 11 on varsity, take my AP history class. They’re smart kids. They have amazing character. We’ll be fine. We’re not the most talented team, but we have great human beings.”
The silver lining for Yarmouth (11th in the Western Class B Heal Points standings at press time) is that it had roughly 12 hours to lick its wounds. The Clippers are at Cape Elizabeth at 9:30 Saturday morning.
“The best news is we play at 9:30 tomorrow,” said Halsted.
Yarmouth hosts Falmouth Monday and Greely Wednesday.
“On paper, we should go 0-4 (versus Greely, Cape, Falmouth and Greely), but we won’t think like that,” said Halsted. “There are things (the Rangers) do better than us. There are things we do better than them. We’ll see.
“I didn’t think we’d score 60 runs in five games. It’s nice to have that offense. The biggest thing is whether or not our senior pitchers who haven’t pitched much in three years can step up and be second or third starters and a closer. If we get production, we’ll be a competitive team to the end.”
Games at Gray-New Gloucester and Falmouth and home tests with Cape Elizabeth, Freeport and York also remain.
As for Greely (third in Western B), it’s back in action Monday at Gray-New Gloucester, then visits Yarmouth Wednesday.
“We’ll see (Yarmouth) again and it will be the same type of game,’ said Leeman. “It’ll get us ready for playoffs.”
“Yarmouth has a lot of athletes,” Soule said. “I expect schools like Yarmouth, Cape, Falmouth and Greely, that when you lose a lot, to reload and still be competitive. Yarmouth’s male athletes the last few years have won two football state championships, a basketball and soccer championship and every spring, they have good lacrosse and baseball teams.”
The Rangers go to Waynflete and Falmouth, then close the regular season with home games against Wells, York, Poland and Fryeburg.
“We have to learn from every game,” Maker said. “We’ll take a lot away from tonight. We’re halfway through. I’m looking forward to a great second half. We’re going to try to keep learning every game and see if we can keep things going.”
“We still have a lot of tough games,” said Soule. “Gray has a winning record. Yarmouth obviously will be another tough game Wednesday. We’ve never played Waynflete. I don’t know what to expect there. Then we get obviously another tough game with Falmouth.”
Greely senior Mike Leeman delivers a pitch during Friday’s game. Leeman went the distance allowing just one unearned run on four hits. He struck out 11 Clippers.
Yarmouth junior Chester Jacobs threw a perfect game for four innings, but Greely got to him in the fifth and sixth.
Yarmouth junior Cal Cooper swings late at a pitch as Greely senior Pete Stauber prepares to catch it.
Greely senior first baseman Luke Saffian stretches to record the out on Yarmouth senior Cal Cooper in the fourth inning.
Greely junior Nick Dunnett steals second as Yarmouth senior Ryan Cody takes the throw in the fifth inning.
Yarmouth senior first baseman Max Grimm stretches to take the throw which beat Greely senior Mike Leeman in the sixth inning.
Greely senior Liam Maker steals second as Yarmouth senior Ryan Cody takes the throw in the sixth inning of Friday night’s battle at The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach. Maker came home with the go-ahead run and the Rangers stayed unbeaten with a 3-1 victory over the 5-3 Clippers.
More photos below.