For most of the 2015 season, Greely’s baseball team didn’t appear bound for another championship.
But when the calendar turned to June, the Rangers flipped the switch once again and Saturday at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, Greely culminated a stirring playoff run with a dominant state game victory over Camden Hills as it repeated as Class B champion, about the only feat this storied program hadn’t accomplished.
“In some ways, it was the most gratifying experience I’ve had as a coach,” said Rangers coach Derek Soule, won won his fourth state title in his 16 seasons. “We saved our best for last. We’ve had more dominant teams, but this team was fascinating to watch. The ups and downs really made me appreciate what we had to go through.”
After losing just five regular season games combined from 2012-14, the Rangers went 11-5 this spring and losses in three of their final four contests didn’t exactly inspire confidence.
“I usually hate the week off (between the end of the regular season and playoffs), but I welcomed it this year,” Soule said. “We played our worst baseball the last four games of the regular season.We had to get our heads on straight. Our mental approach had to turn around. We did some team-building and we played our best ball in the tournament.”
As the No. 3 seed, Greely had to battle rival Yarmouth, the No. 6 seed, in the quarterfinals and it took nine innings before the Rangers survived, 4-3. Greely then went to No. 2 York for the semifinals and broke open a close game late, prevailing, 11-2.
Last Tuesday, the Rangers met top-ranked Cape Elizabeth in the Western B Final. The Capers took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Greely struggled offensively, but thanks to several sparkling defensive plays, remained within a run until the fifth when a disputed call at first kept the inning alive and tying run came home on an error. Ace Will Bryant, who got better as the game progressed, held Cape Elizabeth at bay and in the eighth, Bryant tripled leading off and scored on Cal Soule’s sacrifice fly.
“I just relaxed and took a deep breath,” Soule said. “I had a pretty good feeling I hit it well enough. I knew I had to elevate it and it felt good off the bat.”
A third run scored on a wild pitch and Bryant put the finishing touches on the 3-1 victory as the Rangers had consecutive regional crowns for the first time since 1994-95 (Greely lost in the state game in both of those years).
“It’s great, special, especially to do it in extra innings,” said catcher Dylan Fried, who made a tremendous defensive play in the victory. “You have to find a way to win. Everyone worked as a team to win. We just had to keep doing our jobs and stay positive.”
“It was a great high school sporting event to be a part of,” Derek Soule added. “Hats off to Cape. They made great plays too. It was two rivals going head-to-head, extra innings, a trip to the state final on the line.”
Saturday, Greely returned to St. Joe’s to meet Camden Hills in the state final and extra innings wouldn’t be needed.
In fact, the game wouldn’t even go seven.
After squandering a chance in the first, the Rangers erupted for six runs in the second. Austin Nowinski had an RBI triple, Justin Leeman drove in a run with a ground ball, Bryant hit a two-run double, Cal Soule singled Bryant home and Chaz Reade hit an RBI double to make it 6-0.
While sophomore Ryan Twitchell was holding the Windjammers at bay, Greely made it 8-0 in the third when Miles Shields and Bryant had RBI singles.
Twitchell completed the top of the fifth, still not having allowed a hit, and the Rangers walked-off via the mercy rule in the bottom half, as Shields had an RBI single and Soule had an RBI single to produce the 10-0 final score.
“We’ve had some close games this playoffs,” Bryant said. “It’s a little different to 10-run-rule somebody in a state championship. It wasn’t at all like last year, but it was awesome.”
Eight of the Rangers’ nine starters had at least one hit.
“I could tell on the bus ride over that they had that look in their eyes,” Derek Soule said. “It’s as near a perfect game as I can remember. We had quality at-bats. We came out swinging. We just missed in the first when their centerfielder made a nice running catch to take away three runs, but we strung a bunch of hits together in the second. We had a lot of momentum. After three tough wins against rivals, it would have been difficult for anyone to beat us.
“Repeating motivated this team. Quite a few of the guys had been there before, in different roles in some cases. They wanted to be the first Greely team to go back-to-back.”
Twitchell got the nod over Bryant and became the latest Greely pitcher to dazzle in the state final.
“My first varsity year and then to get to pitch in the state game means a lot,” said Twitchell, who improved to 7-2. “I knew that I just had to throw strikes.”
“Will was tired against Cape Elizabeth,” Derek Soule said. “He hadn’t pitched on three-days rest and I thought it was too much to ask. Ryan’s very composed. The pressure doesn’t bother him.”
The Rangers only graduate three players, but the loss of Bryant (15-2 in his career and a top hitter), Reade and Shields will be felt.
“Those are big shoes to fill in terms of leadership,” Derek Soule said. “We have pitchers with potential. We’ll have six position players and Ryan back. They got a ton of experience in the regular season and playoffs. We’ll try to win again. It never gets old.”
Bangor Daily News staff writer Pete Warner contributed to this story.
Greely’s Justin Leeman attempts to lay down a squeeze bunt as Austin Nowinski breaks for home. The bunt went foul, but Leeman eventually drove in the run.
Greely’s Will Bryant slides home with a run.
Greely shortstop Cal Soule fields a ground ball.
Greely shows off its latest piece of hardware.
Greely sophomore Ryan Twitchell throws a pitch during the Rangers’ Class B Final against Camden Hills Saturday. Twitchell didn’t allow a hit and Greely repeated as state champions, 10-0, in five innings.
Greely erupts in joy after clinching the victory.