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Greely survives Freeport in first close contest

Sports

Greely survives Freeport in first close contest

CUMBERLAND—Greely's baseball team had run roughshod over its competition this spring, but Monday, finally, the Rangers got a challenge.

And passed it.

Hosting vastly improved Freeport, one of the feel-good stories of the first half of the spring sports season, Greely found itself down 1-0 entering the bottom of the third inning, but finally got its bats going and along with some help from a shaky Falcons defense, pushed across three runs to take control.

Junior pitcher Jonah Normandeau allowed one more run in the fourth, but held Freeport at bay in the fifth, then senior ace Mike Leeman came on in relief and blew Freeport away to slam the door on a 4-2 victory, improving the Rangers' record to 6-0, dropping the Falcons to 5-2.

"It's the first time we've trailed all year," said Greely coach Derek Soule. "It was good for us to have to experience some frustration and have to grind it out. We've been on a roll for five games now. You have to experience those feelings. Freeport surprised us. They scrapped and hung in there."

Much needed test

Greely reached the Class B state final a year ahead of schedule last spring, but dropped a tough 1-0 decision to Waterville.

This season, with virtually everyone back, the Rangers have put on a clinic.

Greely opened with a 28-0 victory at Lake Region behind a perfect game from Normandeau. The next time out, the Rangers blanked visiting Sacopee, 10-0, in five innings, as sophomore Bailey Train threw a no-hitter. A 7-2 victory at Fryeburg followed. Normandeau then threw a two-hit shutout in an 8-0 home win over Cape Elizabeth and Wednesday, Greely pulled away for a 10-1 triumph at Wells.

Freeport, which won just 10 games total between 2007 and 2010, improved to 5-11 a year ago and expected to contend this spring. The Falcons got off to a terrific start, beating visiting Yarmouth (11-1, in five innings), visiting York (5-4, in eight innings), host Cape Elizabeth (7-3) and host York (5-3) and visiting Old Orchard Beach (6-5) before finally falling at Gray-New Gloucester Saturday, 5-0.

Since Freeport moved up to Class B in 2004, the Falcons haven't had much luck against Greely, losing all nine meetings by a composite 102-22 margin. That included a 26-0 loss early in the 2008 season and a 15-3 (six inning) setback last spring.

This time around, Freeport fought tooth and nail for seven innings, but fell just short.

Normandeau scuffled at the start, hitting Falcons senior catcher Jared Knighton with his second pitch and balking him to second. Junior shortstop Connor Dietrich then beat out an infield single to put runners at the corners. After Normandeau blew a third strike past senior centerfielder Luke LaMagna, senior first baseman Josh Weirich delivered a bouncing single up the middle, chasing home Knighton for a 1-0 lead.

Freeport coach Hank Ogilby held Dietrich at third out of respect for Greely senior centerfielder Jimmy Whitaker's arm and that loomed large as senior designated hitter Kaleb Farmer hit a ground ball up the middle that Rangers senior shortstop Will McAdoo grabbed before stepping on second base to force Weirich and throwing to first to complete the double play which kept the score 1-0.

"Fortunately, I made the play," said McAdoo. "I stayed focused and made the play. I'm always looking for the double play when there's a guy on first. I just have to stay focused, work up the middle and just play with Brad (McKenney), who's my second baseman. Fortunately, I got the ball right at second base and did it myself."

"Who knows where we would have been without that double play?" said Soule.

Greely went quietly in its half of the first against Freeport senior Sawyer Williams. Williams got Leeman and senior third baseman Liam Maker both to ground out to short, then fanned senior catcher Pete Stauber.

The Falcons threatened again in the second when junior third baseman Dan Burke singled just inside the line on the first pitch, but Normandeau then put it together, catching both Williams and senior second baseman Pat LaFlamme looking at third strikes before striking out senior leftfielder Zach Greene swinging.

"I've been working on my movement on my fastball and that stuns some guys," said Normandeau.

The Rangers had an opportunity at a rally in the their half of the inning when Train reached on an error, but Normandeau hit a sharp grounder to Dietrich at short, who threw to LaFlamme for the force and LaFlamme's throw to Weirich completed the 6-4-3 double play, ending the frame.

Normandeau continued to stifle Freeport in the third, inducing ground outs by Knighton and Dietrich and getting LaMagna to fly to center, where Whitaker made a nice running catch.

Greely then took the lead in its half of the third.

Williams got McAdoo to fly deep to center to start the inning, but senior first baseman Luke Saffian fought off an inside pitch and slapped it to center to start the rally. Sophomore designated hitter Sam Porter followed with a base hit to center (Dietrich lunged for the ball and just missed it).

Leeman then attempted to bunt the runners up and it turned into a run when the throw to first base from Knighton was high, allowing Saffian to score, Porter to go to third and Leeman to be safe at first. After Leeman stole second, Maker hit a ground ball to Dietrich, who threw home, but the throw glanced off Knighton's glove as Porter scored easily and on the error, Leeman raced home as well, making it 3-1.

"We had just one sloppy inning," said Ogilby. "There were two plays where guys pulled their heads off the ball. They were thinking about making the throw or making the tag before they actually caught the ball. It's fundamental stuff. They really wanted to make the play. They just pulled their eyes off the ball at the last second."

Freeport battled back in its half of the fourth as Weirich led off with a walk. After Farmer grounded out to third, allowing Weirich to take second, Burke struck out on a 3-2 pitch, but Williams came through with a single to right, which moved to Weirich to third. With LaFlamme at the plate, a passed ball allowed Weirich to score and the deficit was just 3-2.

Singles by Normandeau and McAdoo put two on with one out in the bottom of the fourth, but Greely's bid to add to its lead was denied as Saffian lined to left and McAdoo was doubled off second.

Normandeau's last inning would be the fifth. He got Greene looking and induced a ground out by Knighton to third (where Maker made a nice play), but walked Dietrich and allowed a single to right by LaMagna. Normandeau was able to escape by getting Weirich to ground out to Maker and the Rangers retained their one run lead.

"I've been struggling to get a rhythm all year," said Normandeau. "Today, I just felt not rushed, but I wasn't myself at first. The second and third innings, I felt good. That fueled me to finish up."

Williams gave up deep fly balls to Porter and Leeman to start the bottom of the fifth, then got Maker to ground out.

When Greely took the field for the top of the sixth, Normandeau was no longer on the hill. He was replaced by Leeman, who quickly retired the Falcons in order.

Farmer went down swinging. Burke watched strike three go by. Williams then struck out swinging to end the frame.

"Leeman's about the best pitcher in the conference," said Ogilby. "Our guys haven't seen much like (his stuff)."

In the bottom half, the Rangers, again with a little help, added to their lead.

Stauber led off with a single to right. After Train hit into a force play, Soule used junior Nick Dunnett as a pinch-runner. Dunnett stole second and went to third on a wild pitch, then, with Normandeau at the plate, came home on another error. A two-out single from McAdoo and Saffian getting hit by a pitch loaded the bases, but Williams avoided further damage by getting Porter to ground out to third, ending his afternoon.

Leeman came back out for the seventh and picked up where he left off, catching sophomore pinch-hitter Niko DiFazio looking at strike three and getting Greene to ground out to short. After Knighton walked on a close 3-2 pitch to bring up Dietrich as the potential tying run, Leeman ended all drama by catching him looking at strike three and Greely had survived, 4-2.

"Being behind 1-0 wasn't bad because I knew our hitting would come around," said McAdoo. "We were hitting up high and got under it. We started scoring runs. This year, we've had some laid back games that weren't competition. This one gives us a good read for the playoffs."

"Last year, we grinded a lot of games out," said Normandeau. "We have experience. It's better to go into the playoffs with a couple tough games. I knew we'd grind it out. We've hit well all year. I knew one run wouldn't stop us. It looks like Freeport is doing a lot better than the last couple years."

Normandeau improved to 3-0 by allowing one run on five hits and a walk in his five innings. He also struck out seven, hit a batter and committed a balk.

"Jonah wasn't his best, but he did fine," said McAdoo. "We're behind him."

"Jonah struggled compared to his previous two starts, but he was still tough," said Soule.

Leeman was almost unhittable, walking just one in his two innings of work, striking out five of the seven hitters he faced in earning his first save.

"Mike loves these kinds of games," Normandeau said. "These games just fuel him. You can't even talk to him."

"Leeman was solid, obviously," said Soule. "He's good in that role. We preached from day one pitching and defense keep you in every game and usually win it for you. Today, except for a passed ball, we played perfect defense. "

McAdoo was the game's lone repeat hitter, with a pair of singles. Dunnett, Leeman, Porter and Saffian scored runs. Normandeau had an RBI. Dunnett and Leeman had stolen bases.

For Freeport, Williams fell to 2-1 on the year after allowing four runs (just one earned) on six hits in his six innings of work. He struck out two, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch.

"(Sawyer) did a great job," said Ogilby. "He's got sneaky speed. He's not super fast, but he has a couple different sliders. They break late and catch people by surprise. (Greely's) a tremendous hitting team. They were just a little surprised by the late break."

Offensively, the Falcons could only muster five hits and struck out 12 times (seven looking). Knighton and Weirich scored the runs. Weirich had the team's lone RBI.

"I wanted to win the ball game," Ogilby said. "You get rid of those three runs and it's a different game. Three runs in that inning were all unearned."

Stretch run

Freeport (now sixth in the Western Class B Heal Points standings) is back in action Wednesday at home against Traip. The Falcons host Poland Friday. Several other big games loom. Freeport is in great position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004 (its last postseason game was a 1-0 loss to Greely in that year's preliminary round). It still has some work to do, however.

"We have two tough ones with Falmouth," said Ogilby. "We have Cape again. Yarmouth gift-wrapped the first game and they're crushing the ball these days. They'll want a piece of us. It's rough the rest of the way. We'll have our hands full. Falmouth's really tough. Cape's solid. Yarmouth's coming on strong. Fryeburg can play with anybody. Wells, depending on who's pitching, can play with anybody. Gray has a tough pitcher. I want us to be a little bit tougher when we show up to a field. We show up a little casual. We've never started 5-0. Knowing how to play and gear up regardless of the competition, they need to work on that. That's our goal the rest of the way."

Greely (now second to Morse in the Heals) goes to York Wednesday and battles Yarmouth Friday night at The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach. Games at Yarmouth and Falmouth also await.

"We're looking forward to this week," said McAdoo.

Soule knows the rest of the road won't be easy.

"Any team with varsity athletes can play well," he said. "We expect competitive games whenever we come out here. We expected strong pitching. We've got it. We had a good offensive club. We lost three out of the lineup. We had some guys we thought could step in and they have. We're about where we expected. Offensively, there are a couple guys who have really surprised us."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Greely junior Jonah Normandeau wasn't unhittable this start, but still managed to go five strong innings for the victory.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Freeport senior Sawyer Williams kept Greely off balance much of the game.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Greely senior Pete Stauber tries to catch up with a high fastball.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Freeport senior Zach Greene is thrown out in a close play in the seventh inning. Greely senior first baseman Luke Saffian took the throw.