Greely downs defending champ Falmouth in battle of unbeatens
CUMBERLAND—A year ago, the Greely baseball team ruled the regular season, but its dominance became a footnote when it was upset in the quarterfinals and rival Falmouth went on to capture the Class B state title.
Friday afternoon, under a gorgeous, sunny sky at Twin Brook Recreation Center, the Rangers took advantage of their opportunity to remind the Yachtsmen that while they might be the champions, Greely is still the team to beat.
In the rivals' lone regular season meeting, Rangers senior ace Jonah Normandeau worked in and out of trouble, but made the big pitch when he had to and the Greely offense made just enough noise against Falmouth senior Connor Murphy to make the difference.
The Rangers broke through with two runs in the third and after the Yachtsmen got on the board with a run in the top of the fifth, scored three more in their half. That was more than enough for the Greely ace, who slammed the door on a 5-1 victory.
Normandeau didn't just throw a five-hitter, he also had three hits and drove in a pair of runs as the Rangers improved to 6-0 and handed Falmouth's its first loss in five outings this spring.
"It's a nice win," said Greely coach Derek Soule. "I have to be honest that, yes, we got up for this a little extra. There was talk about last year. We also talk about the fact that we don't need more motivation when it's Falmouth-Greely. It's a big rivalry, whether it's hockey, basketball, soccer or baseball. We only play them once. We knew this was the only time we were guaranteed to play them. We wanted to go all out."
Greely has long been a top contender in Western Class B, but after a 15-1 regular season record a year ago, the Rangers were shocked in the quarterfinals by Cape Elizabeth, bringing a disappointing and abrupt end to their campaign.
Falmouth, meanwhile, climbed the Class B mountain for the first time, winning the championship, 2-0, over Foxcroft Academy, capping a stirring playoff run.
Both teams suffered their share of graduation losses, but both have set the pace again this year.
The Rangers, who return just two regulars from 2012, beat their first five foes by a composite 51-2 margin. Greely opened with a 10-0 (five inning) home win over Fryeburg, needed just five innings to handle visiting Lake Region (12-0) and only six innings to prevail, 11-1, over visiting Gray-New Gloucester. The Rangers then rolled at Poland (9-0) and at home versus Wells (9-1).
The Yachtsmen picked right up where they left off in 2012, opening with a 2-0 win at Cape Elizabeth behind a no-hitter from senior ace Thomas Fortier. After an 11-3 victory at Freeport, Falmouth beat visiting Fryeburg, 12-2, in six innings and Wednesday, got a second no-hitter from Fortier in a 10-0, five inning home win over Gray-New Gloucester.
One thing the Yachtsmen haven't been able to do over the years, however, is beat the Rangers.
Entering Friday's contest, Greely had won 15 of 19 meetings dating to the start of the 2002 season, including last year's 2-1, down-to-the-wire affair at Falmouth.
The Yachtsmen last beat the Rangers, 7-5, May 5, 2010, in Falmouth.
Friday, Greely delivered a message.
Normandeau was solid to start, as he got Falmouth senior second baseman Drew Proctor to ground out on the game's first pitch, then induced groundouts from senior designated hitter Seamus Powers and Murphy.
In the bottom half, Murphy caught senior centerfielder Drew Hodge looking at strike three and after sophomore second baseman Miles Shields singled to center, Murphy got a groundout from junior designated hitter Bailey Train, with Shields taking second, then got Normandeau to fly out to right.
The Yachtsmen had a great opportunity to take the lead in the top of the second, when junior shortstop Will D'Agostino blooped a single to right and junior rightfielder Addison Foltmer followed with another bloop to right, to put runners at first and second.
Fortier, the centerfielder on this day, followed with a ground ball to Shields, who threw to senior Nick Dunnett at short for a force out. Fortier stole second, putting two runners in scoring position, but Normandeau bore down and got freshman leftfielder Connor Aube to pop out to junior first baseman Mike McDevitt, then fanned sophomore third baseman Luke Velas.
"Those situations just fuel me," said Normandeau. "Once I see (the other team) getting fired up, I feel that much more confident. My fielders made good plays behind me and it all worked out. The adrenaline was there. I felt like had good command. I was confident."
"Normandeau's one of the best pitchers in the league and probably in southern Maine," said Falmouth coach Kevin Winship. "He got in trouble a little bit and worked his way out of it. If we came up with a big hit and went up, 2-0, maybe it would be a different game, but he got out of it."
The Rangers squandered a chance in their half of the inning as well.
Senior leftfielder Patrick Finnegan led off by drawing a walk and promptly stole second. After sophomore rightfielder Will Bryant bounced out to short, sending Finnegan to third, McDevitt had the count in his favor, 3-0, but skied the ball in foul territory where senior first baseman Andrew Emple made the catch, with Finnegan holding. Murphy then struck out junior third baseman Patrick O'Shea swinging to end the threat.
Normandeau sandwiched a swinging strikeout of sophomore catcher Connor MacDowell and a called third strike on Powers around a ground ball back to the mound from Proctor to end the top of the third in order.
In the bottom half, Greely finally broke through to go on top for good.
After Dunnett took strike three leading off, Hodge sparked a rally with a single to center. Shields hit into a force play, but Train singled to center (with Fortier making a nice play to prevent Shields from moving up further). That brought up Normandeau, who watched appreciatively as Murphy threw a wild pitch to put runners at second and third, then uncorked another wild pitch to score Shields with the game's first run.
Normandeau then helped himself with a base hit to left, scoring Train, giving the Rangers a 2-0 advantage.
Falmouth got a one-out single from Emple in the fourth, but he was stranded. In the bottom half, Fortier ranged to deep right-center to catch a fly off the bat of Bryant. After McDevitt was hit by a pitch, Murphy got O'Shea to fly out and after McDevitt stole his way into scoring position, fanned Dunnett to end the frame.
Leading off the top of the fifth, Aube crushed a double over Hodge's head in center. He moved to third on a groundout by Velas and after MacDowell walked, Proctor grounded out first to short, but Aube scored to cut the deficit to 2-1. Powers followed with a walk, moving Proctor into scoring position, but D'Agostino hit a fly ball to Bryant in right to end the inning with Greely still on top, 2-1.
The Rangers then set about extending their advantage.
Hodge cracked a single to left on the first pitch from Murphy to set the table.
"We had to put the ball in play," said Hodge. "We can run the bases and we've got great hitters. I was seeing the ball well. I was focused on being aggressive. I tried to take the first good pitch."
"Sometimes, it only takes one hit to really get you going," said Soule. "Our lineup's been doing a good job. We're growing each day. Drew Hodge was a reserve player who didn't get many at-bats last year. He's a great athlete. A two-time all-conference quarterback. Baseball's not his top sport, but he's a senior who's taken this opportunity and is really developing as a good baseball player. His hits were big to get us going."
Shields then beat out a bunt, which Velas couldn't cleanly handle. Train hit a sharp ground ball into the hole, but D'Agostino made a diving stop. Unfortunately for the Yachtsmen, he tried to throw Hodge out at third and the ball sailed over Velas' head for an error, allowing Hodge to score to make it 3-1, putting Shields at third and Train at second.
"D'Ags made a major league play at shortstop and tried to make the big play at third and the ball just got away from him," said Winship.
Normandeau hit a grounder to second which Proctor couldn't handle and Shields came home with the fourth run. After senior pinch-runner Liam Pakulski stole second and Finnegan was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Bryant looked at strike three and McDevitt fouled out to MacDowell to get Murphy to the brink of ending the inning, but junior pinch-hitter Tom Buchholz came through with a ground ball into the hole that D'Agostino fielded, but couldn't do anything with and Train came home with a run which made it 5-1.
Fortier crushed a two-out double in the top of the sixth, but Aube looked at strike three.
In the bottom half, Hodge singled to left for his third hit and stole second. Train walked and was replaced by senior pinch-runner Connor McCarthy, who was thrown out stealing. After Normandeau beat out an infield hit, Finnegan struck out.
Normandeau wasted little time closing things out in the seventh, getting Velas to line to Hodge in center, inducing a ground out to third from MacDowell, then catching Proctor looking at strike three to put a bow on Greely's 5-1 win.
"We've played good teams, but this is a top tier team," Hodge said. "I think we made a statement. There's a chance we can see them again. Jonah pitched great. The offense played well. The defense too. Everyone."
"It's a nice win," Soule said. "Beating the defending state champs with six returning all-conference players. We would've liked to see (Fortier), but it's out of our hands."
Hodge and Normandeau both had three hits for the Rangers. Shields had a pair. Shields and Train each scored twice, while Hodge touched home plate once. Normandeau drove in a pair of runs, while Buchholz also had an RBI. Finnegan, McDevitt, Pakulski and Shields each stole a base.
On the hill, Normandeau wasn't unhittable, but did what he had to do to improve to 2-0. He allowed just five hits and a run in seven innings, walking two and fanning six.
"I didn't feel 100 percent with my stuff today, but I felt like I was good enough to get through the game," said Normandeau.
For Falmouth, Emple was the lone repeat hitter. Aube scored the run and Proctor had the RBI. Aube and Proctor's doubles were the only extra base knocks of the game. Fortier stole a pair of bases.
Murphy was the hard-luck loser and fell to 1-1 on the year after allowing five runs (just two earned) in six innings. He gave up nine hits, walked two, hit two batters, threw a pair of wild pitches and struck out five.
"I thought Murph matched Normandeau pitch for pitch, I really did," Winship said. "He stepped up. He only gave up two earned runs. We had the one inning that got away from us. I thought it was a good game. I don't think the final score was an indication of how the game went."
"Murphy's a very good pitcher," Soule said. "He kept us off balance for a few innings, then we pieced a few hits together. He knows how to pitch. He's experienced."
Now that the Yachtsmen and Rangers won't see each other again in the regular season, they'll be keeping a wary eye on each other while vying for the No. 1 seed in the region.
Falmouth returns to action Monday at Lake Region. The Yachtsmen welcome dangerous Poland Wednesday, play at Wells Friday and play host to York Saturday.
"We'll get back to work on Monday," Winship said. "This is just a measuring stick. We made no mental mistakes. The physical errors we made, I'm OK with. We look forward to playing (Greely) again, hopefully come playoff time. We have a lot of big games coming up."
Falmouth also has two games with Yarmouth and another with Cape Elizabeth still on its schedule.
As for Greely, it travels to Freeport Monday, plays host to York Wednesday and has a showdown at Yarmouth Friday.
"We're hot right now, but we have to keep it going," Hodge said. "We can't take anything for granted. We can't look past Freeport on Monday."
"It's a 20-step program and this is step number six," said Normandeau. "We won't look past anybody. This one means a little bit more, but it's still just another step. We need to bring everything together a little more. I can still challenge hitters better."
"We know this can serve as a wakeup call for Falmouth and it could take the reverse effect for us if we think we're better than we are," Soule added. "We're young and have potential to be pretty good, but we can't think we're better. We have to continue to work and grow. We have a tough week next week. It only gets tougher."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
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