No hits, no problem; Falmouth wins Western B baseball title
STANDISH—The Falmouth baseball team couldn't muster a single hit Thursday evening, but fortune smiled on the Yachtsmen nonetheless.
Facing the Cinderella Capers of Cape Elizabeth in the Western Class B Final at St. Joseph's College, Falmouth managed to produce the game's only run without a hit and as a result, is heading to the Class B state final for the first time.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, junior rightfielder Connor Murphy drew a walk off Capers lefty Sam Kozlowski, was sacrificed to second and moved up to third on a passed ball. After senior third baseman Ryan Conley couldn't deliver a winning hit, striking out for out number two, it looked as if the game would go on deep into the night, but with junior second baseman Drew Proctor at the plate, a pitch got away and Murphy was able to dance home with the game's lone run, giving the Yachstmen an improbable 1-0 victory.
While Kozlowski didn't surrender a single hit, he was the hard-luck loser. Falmouth senior Nick Spencer only allowed four hits to earn the victory as the Yachstmen improved to 16-3, ended Cape Elizabeth's fairy tale run at 11-9 and earned a date with Eastern B champion Foxcroft Academy (15-5) Saturday at 11 a.m., at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor.
"I'm very happy," said Falmouth coach Kevin Winship. "It wasn't scripted this way, but looking at the scoreboard, we have a '1' and they have a '0.' I don't care about the other numbers. It was a heck of a high school baseball game. It seems like we've been involved in one after another. This team's been resilient all year long. If the hitting doesn't carry us, pitching and defense do it. That happened tonight. Some things went our way. To win a championship, you have to have some luck. It happened for us."
Fight to the finish
After coming very close in 2011, losing to Greely in the Western B semifinals, Falmouth opened with an 8-2 victory at York, then downed visiting Cape Elizabeth (10-5), host Fryeburg (11-1, in six innings), host Gray-New Gloucester (6-0), visiting Lake Region (8-2), host Poland (8-4), visiting Wells (2-1), visiting Freeport (5-4, in nine innings), host Yarmouth (5-0), visiting Poland (7-0, behind Spencer's no-hitter) and host Traip (11-1, in six innings) to make it 11 straight.
The run finally ended, barely, with a 2-1 home loss to Greely. The Yachtsmen were up-and-down the rest of the regular season, winning at Cape Elizabeth (4-2), falling at home to Yarmouth (6-4), romping at Freeport (12-2), before closing with a 3-1 home loss to Gray-New Gloucester.
Falmouth wound up 13-3 and second in the Western Class B Heal Points standings and downed 10th-ranked Spruce Mountain, 7-3, in Thursday's quarterfinals and held off No. 3 Morse, 3-0, in Monday's semis.
Cape Elizabeth, which was upset by Falmouth in last year's quarterfinals, and featured a much less experienced nucleus this spring, was competitive throughout.
The Capers rolled at Old Orchard Beach in the opener, 10-0, in five innings. After falling at Falmouth, 10-5, they beat visiting Gray-New Gloucester, 7-1 before losing to visiting Freeport, 7-3, and at Greely, 8-0. Three wins in a nine-day span (2-0 over visiting York, 12-0 in five innings at Wells, behind a no-hit effort from Kozlowski, and 7-6 in eight innings at home over Fryeburg), interrupted by four rainouts, followed. Visiting Yarmouth then handed Cape Elizabeth a 14-3 five inning setback, but the Capers responded with a 4-2 victory at Freeport. They then lost four straight, 3-1 at Lake Region, 2-1 to visiting Wells, a 9-8 eight-inning heartbreaker at Yarmouth and 4-2 at home to Falmouth, but Cape Elizabeth closed with a 17-1 five-inning home win over Waynflete and a 3-0 eight-inning triumph at Poland to earn the No. 9 seed.
Cape Elizabeth upset No. 8 Freeport (4-0) in the preliminary round and shocked the baseball world with a 9-6 quarterfinal round victory over presumed champion Greely. Saturday, in the semifinals, the Capers outlasted No. 4 Yarmouth in 10 innings, 7-1.
The Yachtsmen took both regular season meetings as well as last year's quarterfinal, 2-1, a game which they were the lower seed.
Thursday, it was clear early that the pitchers would reign and that whoever could scratch out a run would advance. No one envisioned quite how the endgame would play out, however.
Cape Elizabeth senior leftfielder Max Gore hit the ball well leading off, but lined to sophomore Addison Foltmer in left. Senior second baseman Matty Pierce grounded out to third and junior third baseman Chris Robicheaw popped out to second.
In the bottom of the first, Proctor grounded out to third, junior designated hitter Seamus Powers flew out to right and senior centerfielder Grayson Beressi hit a ground ball to short.
Spencer started the second by getting senior designated hitter Will LeBlond to swing at an off-speed pitch for strike three. Junior catcher Seth Dobieski lined deep to left, but Foltmer was able to go back and stab it. Junior rightfielder Zach Culver then looked at strike three to end it.
In the bottom of the second, junior first baseman Andrew Emple lined to Gore in left and sophomore shortstop Will D'Agostino and senior catcher Jeremy Lydick struck out swinging.
Kozlowski got the game's first hit when he squibbed a single to center leading off the third. On a 2-2 pitch, Kozlowski stole second. Junior shortstop Charlie Laprade grounded out to D'Agostino and Kozlowski moved up to third, but Spencer bore down and with the infield in, he fanned junior centerfielder Connor Maguire before getting Gore to ground to Proctor, who made a stellar play going to his left, stabbing the ball before throwing Gore out on a close play.
"We had a man on third with one out," lamented Cape Elizabeth coach Chris Hayward. "I'm a squeezer and opted not to. Connor's been swinging the bat really well. I thought he'd pound one, but he didn't."
The Yachtsmen had a threat in the bottom of the third.
Murphy led off with a walk. Foltmer followed with a walk, but Conley got the green light on a 3-1 pitch and grounded sharply to Laprade, who threw to Pierce, who fired to junior Chris Peterson at first to complete a double play. Laprade then fielded Proctor's ground ball and threw him out and that ended the frame.
In the top of the fourth, Spencer again made quick work of the Capers, sandwiching groundouts by Pierce and LeBlond around a foul pop off the bat of Robicheaw.
The bottom of the fourth began just like the third as Powers drew a walk on a full count, but Falmouth didn't take advantage. Beressi made good contact, but his liner to left didn't have enough oomph and was caught by Gore. Emple looked at strike three and D'Agostino grounded into a force out.
In the top of the fifth, Dobieski flew to right, Culver grounded to second on the first pitch and Kozlowski reached on a throwing error, but Laprade flew out to end it.
In the bottom half, Lydick led off by chopping a ball to third that Robicheaw leapt for, snared and threw to barely beat the runner. Murphy struck out looking and Foltmer grounded back to Kozlowski, keeping the game scoreless as five innings were played in just under an hour (59 minutes).
In the sixth, Maguire led off with a deep fly to center, but Beressi ran it down. Gore ripped a single to right-center, but after Pierce bunted him to second, Robicheaw grounded out to third to end it.
Conley led off the bottom half with a fly to left and Proctor hit a line drive to right. Powers drew a walk, but Beressi couldn't quite (despite a dramatic dive into the bag at first) beat out a slow roller to shortstop.
In the top half of the seventh, LeBlond almost beat out an infield hit, but Conley's throw was adeptly scooped by Emple for the out. Dobieski hit a soft liner to third, but Culver blooped a single to right-center to keep the inning going. That brought up Kozlowski with a chance to help his cause.
He didn't miss by much.
On a 1-1 pitch, Kozlowski hit a shot down the leftfield line but when it landed just shy of the wall, it was inches foul.
"I was a little bit nervous there," Spencer said. "I can't think of a time my heart was racing more than that."
On the next pitch, Spencer caught Kozlowski looking and the game went to the bottom of the seventh.
Emple led off the frame by bidding for his team's first hit, but his soft line drive up the middle was denied by a dive from Pierce, who caught the ball inches off the ground. D'Agostino then looked at strike three, leaving it up to Lydick, who also took a called third strike.
In the eighth, Laprade struck out and Maguire grounded out to Conley, but Gore lined a single down the leftfield line. He stole second and Pierce walked on a full count pitch, leaving Robicheaw with an opportunity to be the hero. Robicheaw almost succeeded, but his soft liner to center was snared by Beressi and that set the stage for the Yachtsmen to finally end it.
Murphy led it off with a five-pitch walk.
"I just wanted to get on base," Murphy said. "The umpire had a tight zone. I knew he had to come with a good pitch."
Foltmer bunted hard back to the mound, but Kozlowski chose to throw to first instead, trying to get the force and Murphy was in scoring position.
"When I heard them yell, '2!,' I kicked it into higher gear and was relieved when they didn't throw it down," Murphy said.
"If he threw it to second, I think (Connor would) be out," Winship said. "Watching the play, he hesitated and you're taught if you hesitate at all, to throw to first base. He double clutched and made the right decision. You have to take the out."
Conley, Monday's hero, then struck out swinging.
"I thought (Ryan would) win it again, it just didn't happen, but he got us here," Winship said.
That brought up Proctor.
Proctor didn't get a hit, or even swing the bat, but Falmouth won it anyway as Kozlowski's pitch tipped off Dobieski's glove and Murphy raced home, touched the plate and was mobbed by his teammates.
Falmouth1 Cape Elizabeth 0.
"We had played disciplined the whole game," Murphy said. "We waited for our time. I knew I was going to score. I was ready for anything. I just took off and slid in. I couldn't believe it. No one thought we'd win this year. We've fought hard. It just feels so good. Our pitching has carried us all year. We haven't blown too many teams out."
"I've never had more fun on a sports team than this," Spencer said. "We've always been that team that finds a way to win. That was true tonight. We hit the ball OK, just at people. I knew the run would come eventually. That's how we've been all year. We got it. We came into the year with more of a relaxed team vibe. We stayed relaxed and played how we know how to play."
"I had a feeling we were going to do something," Winship added. "We did enough to win. When I walked over to him, I said we've got to go on a wild pitch. When the ball got by, I thought if it hit the brick we'd be in trouble. It hit the green, we lucked out. It didn't carom back and we scored.
"Cape's a really good team, they're playing well right now. We snuck out with a win. It feels good. We came into the year with a more relaxed atmosphere. We wanted to work hard and have fun. The kids are doing that. The team chemistry is great. We've got great kids. It's led to great things. It's a fun team to coach. They're fun to be around. Good things are happening to good kids. I'm happy for them."
Spencer (4-1) earned the win, allowing just four hits and a walk, while striking out five.
"I definitely had my top stuff tonight," said Spencer. "I threw my change-up really well. That's kind of my go-to pitch."
"Nicky pitched a hell of a game," Murphy said. "When you pitch well, you give yourself a chance to win and we did that again today."
"Nicky Spencer matched (Kozlowski) inning for inning," Winship said.
There was no Falmouth offense to speak of, other than Murphy scoring the run.
Kozlowski (3-3) threw a no-hitter, but it went for naught. He walked five and struck out seven.
"I settled in after the first inning, got confident and knew I could throw what I wanted where I wanted it," Kozlowski said. "I'm not too mad right now. We had a good run, you have to be happy with it. No one expected us to get this far. I tried to get a fastball inside on (Proctor). Sneak it by him. I just pulled it down a little bit. It was a little low and inside and it just got him wrong on the mitt. It just bounced off.
"It was a good game. At least it was competitive and we had chances to win it. There were a couple well-hit balls, but our outfield is pretty good. We had the talent to be here. We had trouble putting it together all season. We had a stretch where we lost some games we shouldn't have lost. We came together as a team and got that energy going and helped each other play our best."
"Sam was very good," Hayward said. "He kept his head on tight. He didn't get rattled. He did a nice job."
Kozlowski certainly impressed the Yachstmen with the third no-hitter of his high school career and his second this spring.
"I think he did the same thing I was doing, mixing up speeds, keeping us off balance, keeping us guessing," said Spencer.
"(Kozlowski) pitched really well," said Murphy. "We knocked him around a little bit earlier this year, but he pitched really well this game. He was hitting his spots. He had his curveball working when he got up. He pounded it low. They made some nice plays behind him."
"You have to tip your cap to Kozlowski," Winship added. "He threw a no-hitter and lost. I thought we hit the ball hard. They made some plays to save him. We were snakebit. There was nothing we could do."
Cape Elizabeth's offense was sparked by two hits from Gore. Gore and Kozlowski had stolen bases.
The Capers' postseason run deserves an abundance of praise.
"I reflect back to what I said in the preseason that we had good pitching and defense and if we got enough offense, we'd be alright," Hayward said. "Look what we did the last two weeks. That was exactly it."
Cape Elizabeth loses Gore, LeBlond, Pierce and role players Donald Clark and Timothy Stack, but returns a lot. The 2013 team will be bolstered by this run and could finish the job.
"I think we'll have a good year next year," said Kozlowski. "We have some good returning players."
"We'll try to reload," Hayward said. "We do have a dozen kids returning. We'll have experience. I'm a little concerned about younger grades. We don't have a Junior Legion team. The kids playing Senior Legion will get experience this summer. We'll see what happens after that."
While Falmouth won Class C state championships in 1985, 1996 and 1998, the Yachtsmen haven't been able to add Class B hardware.
That could change Saturday against a Foxcroft Academy squad Falmouth has never faced.
Based on what this team's accomplished so far this year, it wouldn't be wise to bet against the Yachtsmen, who plan to start junior lefty ace Thomas Fortier.
"We'll do what we've been doing all season," Murphy said. "Thomas is going, so we'll get great pitching. Hopefully, we'll knock the ball around."
"We have to go into it with the same mindset to play our game and make sure we don't make errors," Spencer said. "We'll get good pitching from Thomas. He'll be great. We just need to make sure to get the bats going."
"We'll go up there and try to keep doing what we're doing," Winship added. "We'll go up there and have fun."