Greely rides stellar pitching to Class B pinnacle
Greely's baseball team won 47 games between 2011 and 2013, but had nothing to show for it.
Nothing as in coveted championship hardware for one of the state's premier programs.
The Rangers' frustration came to an end last week as its culminated a run of pitching excellence likely never before seen in the state of Maine with a Class B title, the fifth in program history.
Greely, the No. 2 seed in Western B after a 13-3 campaign, blanked No. 10 Yarmouth (4-0) in the quarterfinals and third-ranked Poland (5-0) in the semifinals to earn a date against No. 1 Lincoln Academy in the regional final last Wednesday at St. Joseph's College, where the Rangers' pitching staff kept posting goose eggs.
Patrick O'Shea had a sacrifice fly and Miles Shields scored on an error to give Greely a 2-0 lead in the second and that was more than enough, even though there were some anxious moments. Bailey Train pitched shutout ball into the fifth, where the Eagles put two on with no outs and with the heart of the order coming up, Rangers coach Derek Soule replaced Train with Mike McDevitt, who got out of the jam with a strikeout, pop up and a runner caught stealing.
"Mike came into a tremendously difficult situation and he came through," said Soule.
Shields added to the lead with an RBI single in the sixth and Will Bryant slammed the door in the final two innings to give Greely a 3-0 victory.
That sent Greely to Bangor Saturday to face Eastern B champion Caribou, a squad which went 10-6 in the regular season and was ranked seventh for the playoffs before coming to life.
The Vikings proved to be legit, as the teams battled through six scoreless innings, with senior Connor Russell getting the job done on the hill for the Rangers, but he was matched pitch for pitch by Caribou's Sean Sadler.
"Caribou's pitcher was really on," Soule said. "He threw five different pitches and never threw the same pitch twice in a row. He even threw a knuckleball and kept us off balance."
Then, in the top of the seventh, Greely finally broke through.
The Rangers managed just one hit to that juncture, but Bryant, pinch-hitting, opened the seventh by singling to right. Shields sacrificed Bryant to second before O’Shea beat out a chopper toward third base to put runners on first and third with one down.
Reid Howland then worked the count full before cleanly lining a single to right to drive home Bryant for the game's lone run.
“I was just looking to get something in the air in the outfield to get a [sacrifice] fly,” said Howland, “I battled and we got to a 3-2 count and the pitch was low and away so I just went with it and found the gap.”
"The bottom of our order has been steady all year," Soule said. "Howland had the clutch hit."
Russell faced just three batters in the bottom of the seventh, with a leadoff single erased by a game-ending double play from Calvin Soule at second to O'Shea at short to McDevitt at first.
"Winning that way was fun to see," said Derek Soule. "We work on double plays a lot, but our pitchers strike out so many batters.
"I was exhilarated with a feeling of relief as well. This senior class is so special and some of the guys won in soccer and hockey, but there were some very good athletes who played on great teams but hadn't won a championship. I wanted it badly for them."
Greely finished 17-3.
Russell pitched his second straight postseason shutout, a five-hitter with five strikeouts and only one walk. He only threw 93 pitches (60 for strikes).
"It's great that Connor was the guy who brought it home for us," Russell said. "Sophomore year, he relieved against Cape in the playoffs in only his third career appearance. We were down, 2-1, and they had the bases loaded and they squeezed and Connor threw the ball away. He took it tough, but I loved the fact that he came back so determined. He went 6-1 this season and 12-1 for his career. He came full circle."
Greely's pitching staff did not allow a run during the playoffs and ended the season with 39 consecutive scoreless innings.
"(The scoreless streak) was pretty extraordinary," Soule said. "I've coached a long time and I don't know of another team to do it. I had complained earlier in the year about giving up runs, but we just got on a roll. It was a combination of pitchers being in sync with the catcher and with (pitching coach) Miles Hunt. They had great rythym all playoffs. We limited walks and made some good defensive plays over the course of four games. It was an amazing feat."
While Greely won Class B in 1997, 1999, 2007 and 2009, it's never gone back-to-back. The Rangers will have some big holes to fill in 2015, as Russell and Train depart from the pitching staff and outfielder Tom Buchholz, along with three-quarters of the infield (McDevitt, O'Shea and Will Porter), also graduate.
"We'll have plenty in reserve," Soule said. "We had a practice game the Saturday before the playoffs between our starters and our reserves and JV guys and the reserves won, 3-2. We have some talented players coming up."
Bangor Daily News staff writer Ernie Clark contributed to this story.