Yarmouth outlasts Greely in softball quarterfinal
YARMOUTH—After waiting eight years for a playoff victory, what was another 2 hours and 45 minutes to the Yarmouth softball team?
Well, for starters, those 165 minutes were grueling and agonizing, but in the end, they proved downright exhilarating.
The Clippers hosted rival Greely in a Western Class B quarterfinal Thursday afternoon that had a little bit of everything.
It was immediately clear that it wasn't going to be a day for pitchers, as the Rangers scored a run in the top of the first inning and left the bases loaded and in the bottom half, Greely junior starter Miranda Moore was pulled after walking the first two hitters she faced.
Yarmouth drew even in the bottom of the first and after the Rangers went back on top with a run in the top of the second inning, the hosts seemed to take control by exploding for five runs in the bottom half.
But the fun was just beginning.
Greely roared back to tie the game, 6-6, and after the Clippers went back on top, 8-6, the Rangers answered and went ahead, 9-8, in the top of the fourth, before a bases loaded walk by sophomore Bre Morrill finally put Yarmouth on top to stay, 10-9.
On a day where only one half-inning was completed without a run being scored, it was ultimately a pitcher who made the difference, in this case, Yarmouth sophomore Mari Cooper.
Cooper wasn't expected to be available Thursday, as she was nursing a back injury, but she came on in the fifth with the Clippers clinging to an 11-9 lead and in a script right out of Hollywood, stepped the tide.
With a couple of timely hits from her teammates to help her along.
After Greely cut the deficit to 11-10, Yarmouth senior do-everything shortstop Monica Austin had a clutch RBI single in the bottom of the fifth for some breathing room and after Cooper set the Rangers down without allowing a run in the sixth, junior Kallie Hutchinson, one of the rare players who struggled offensively much of the day Thursday, delivered the game's biggest blow in the bottom half, lofting a three-run homer just over the fence in left-center.
Cooper wriggled out of another jam in the seventh and the Clippers held on to prevail, 15-11.
Yarmouth got its first postseason victory since the 2006 campaign, improved to 11-6, ended Greely's season at 11-6 and advanced to the semifinals Saturday at 4 p.m. at top-ranked, undefeated Cape Elizabeth.
"There was one point where I thought I'd have a heart attack," Austin said. "In the third inning, it was like 6-o'clock already, but we just never give up. It means a ton for Yarmouth in general. We lost to (Greely) in playoffs last year and it's a huge rivalry. It's absolutely amazing."
When the seedings came out for the tournament, this quarterfinal was arguably the most appealing, as both teams appeared to have what it took to make a deep run.
The Rangers, who lost, 8-1, to Oceanside in last year's Class B Final, got off to a sizzling start, beating visiting Fryeburg (3-2, on a dramatic late rally), Kennebunk (11-5) and Lake Region (4-0), host Poland (12-6) and visiting Traip (16-0, in five innings) and Yarmouth (5-4, thanks to a late comeback), then stumbled at Falmouth (11-7). After winning at York, 8-1, Greely fell at home to Cape Elizabeth, 12-3, in a game which got out of hand late. Another comeback victory over Fryeburg, this one at the Raiders, 14-10, followed, but the Rangers then lost at Gray-New Gloucester, 4-3. Greely bounced back by pounding host Old Orchard Beach (32-6, in five innings) and won at York (5-1) and Kennebunk (7-2) before struggling in a 13-0 (five inning) home loss to Falmouth and falling at Cape Elizabeth in the regular season finale, 10-6.
The Clippers, meanwhile, lost at Cape Elizabeth in the opener, 6-3, then lost at home to the Capers, 13-4. After home wins over Freeport (9-7), Fryeburg (7-5) and Gray-New Gloucester (5-4), Yarmouth fell at Greely, 5-4. A 5-0 win at Sacopee was followed by home losses to Lake Region (6-4) and Poland (6-0) and at Wells (15-10). The Clippers then turned it on by winning at Falmouth (7-4), York (8-1) and Freeport (21-0) before things truly got wild with epic seventh inning comeback wins over visiting Falmouth (8-7) and host Sacopee (11-9). A more traditional 12-0 (five inning) home victory over Kennebunk capped the regular season and allowed Yarmouth to leapfrog Greely into the No. 4 spot.
Entering Thursday's game, the Rangers had won both prior playoff meetings (see below), including last year's 9-3 quarterfinal round triumph.
This time around, the Clippers continued their late-season surge although it took a long, long time to take care of business.
Yarmouth sophomore starter Cat Thompson ran into early trouble.
Greely junior leftfielder Haley Felkel, who would have a sensational afternoon, led off the game by lining a single between Austin at shortstop and senior Abby Nielsen at third. Sophomore designated player Miranda Eisenhart then hit a foul pop near third, which Nielsen, who played for the Rangers last spring, slid to make a sliding catch for the first out. Freshman centerfielder Kayley Cimino, who has already emerged as one of the league's finest players, then ripped a single to right moving Felkel to third and when Yarmouth sophomore rightfielder Eleanor O'Gorman couldn't handle the ball, Cimino took second. Moore then reached on an error by Nielsen as Felkel scored. A subsequent error by sophomore leftfielder Colleen Sullivan moved Cimino to third and Moore to second.
"(The girls) were very nervous," said Yarmouth coach Amy McMullin. "You could tell everybody was. We believe in Cat, but it's different not having (Mari, who's been there all season). I'm glad we shook that off."
When senior second baseman Elyse Dinan walked to load the bases, the Rangers had a great opportunity to seize early control, but Yarmouth sophomore starter Cat Thompson got senior first baseman Mykaela Twitchell to pop out to Austin and sophomore rightfielder Charlotte Benoit to ground back to the mound to end the top of the first with Greely only ahead by one.
The Clippers got the run right back in the bottom half.
Moore, who threw seven wild pitches in the loss at Cape Elizabeth in the regular season finale, walked Austin leading off and ball four was thrown well over the head of junior catcher Audrey Mann. Junior centerfielder Michelle Robichaud then walked with ball four again sailing over Mann's head and Rangers coach Jess Brady yanked Moore in favor of Cimino.
"The past few games by the third inning, (Miranda's) had multiple walks and wild pitches," Brady said. "Today, we hoped to get her two innings and see how it went. She just couldn't get over her nerves, I guess."
Cimino promptly walked senior first baseman Melissa Levinson to load the bases, but struck Morrill out for out number one.
With Thompson at the plate, Cimino threw a wild pitch and Austin came home to make it 1-1. Thompson eventually walked to reload the bases, but Cimino struck out Hutchinson swinging and got sophomore rightfielder Eleanor O'Gorman to pop to second to end the threat.
Greely went back on top in the top of the second, as sophomore third baseman Sarah Felkel drew a walk and after Mann popped out to short, Haley Felkel lined a single to center, the sisters pulled off a double steal and Eisenhart's ground ball to Austin brought home Sarah Felkel for a 2-1 lead. Cimino then crushed a ball to center, but Robichaud ran it down to end the frame.
Yarmouth appeared to take a healthy lead in its half of the inning, pushing across five runs.
Nielsen led off with a walk. After senior second baseman Julia Anastos grounded into a force out, Austin walked on a 3-2 pitch and Robichaud reached on a fielder's choice, as Cimino tried to throw out Anastos at third, only to have the ball arrive too late. Levinson drew a walk to tie the score and Morrill followed with a since to center, scoring Austin, but a strong throw from Haley Felkel (who moved over when Cimino came into pitch) was a strike to Mann, who tagged out Robichaud for the inning's second out. Thompson followed with a base hit to right, scoring Levinson and Hutchinson walked to load the bases, ending Cimino's day.
In came sophomore Evan Carrell, who had seen limited action during the regular season. Carrell was greeted by O'Gorman, who lined a single to center, scoring two more runs. O'Gorman was caught trying to steal second, but the Clippers had a 6-2 advantage.
Which promptly disappeared in the top of the third.
Thompson walked Moore on a 3-2 pitch and things quickly went downhill from there. After a wild pitch, Dinan beat out an infield hit and Twitchell walked to load the bases. A walk to Benoit on a 3-2 pitch scored Moore and Dinan scored on a groundout by Sarah Felkel. A passed ball brought home Twitchell and after Mann grounded out to third, Haley Felkel singled off Thompson's glove, the ball rolled into center and Benoit came home to tie the score, 6-6. After a passed ball, Thompson walked Carrell, with ball four being wild, and that was it for her stint.
McMullin, with Cooper ostensibly unavailable, turned to freshman Andrea St. Pierre, who escaped the inning when Carrell went halfway between first and second, started back to first, then moved toward second and was called out for not committing.
"Once the ball is in the circle with the pitcher, the runner can only go in one direction and she went in two, so she got called out, thank God," McMullin said.
With the game already more than an hour old, the Clippers returned to offense and retook the lead, although they could have had much, much more.
Moore re-entered as pitcher and promptly hit Nielsen, wild pitched her to second and walked Anastos. A wild pitch moved Nielsen to third and another scored the go-ahead run, moving Anastos to second in the process. After Austin drew her third walk, a wild pitch moved the runners up and Moore hit Robichaud to load the bases and walked Levinson to score Anastos to put Yarmouth on top, 8-6.
That was it for Moore's second and final stint and Carrell returned to the hill.
When Morrill greeted Carrell with a deep drive to left, it appeared the Clippers were finally going to break it open, but Haley Felkel who had returned to her original position in leftifield, ran down the drive for out number one and Austin wasn't able to tag up.
"Haley played well in the field and she hit well too," Brady said.
That loomed huge when Thompson grounded to Sarah Felkel, who threw home to Mann for a force and Hutchinson grounded into a force out, keeping Yarmouth's lead at two runs.
Greely not only erased its deficit in the top of the fourth, but took the lead.
Cimino got things started with a sharp single to center. Moore then doubled to left-center and when the ball rolled under the fence, it was ruled a ground-rule double, leaving runners at second and third. Dinan flew out to right to score Cimino and after Twitchell reached on a fielder's choice, putting runners at the corners, Benoit's sacrifice fly to left tied the game, 8-8, with Twitchell moving to second on the throw. Sarah Felkel followed with a bloop single to right and Twitchell came home to put the Rangers on top. Mann fouled out to Hutchinson in foul territory, but the visitors had the lead, 9-8.
Then, the Clippers rallied to take the lead for good.
O'Gorman walked leading off the bottom of the fourth and Nielsen doubled to right-center, putting runners at second and third. Anastos singled to left to score O'Gorman with the tying run, but Nielsen was gunned down by Haley Felkel at home. Austin walked yet again and Robichaud grounded out, putting runners at second and third. Levinson walked to load the bases and Morrill's walk put Yarmouth ahead to stay, 10-9. Thompson followed with a single to left to score another run and although Hutchinson popped out to second, the Clippers took an 11-9 advantage to the fifth.
It wasn't quite Willis Reed taking the court for the New York Knicks in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals or Curt Schilling going to the mound in Game 5 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, but the sight of Cooper giving it a go inspired Yarmouth and the Clippers were able to get out of the inning with the lead.
Cooper got Haley Felkel to ground out to Austin to mark the first time in nine half-innings that the leadoff hitter was retired. Carrell beat out an infield single, but Cimino ripped an 0-2 pitch down the leftfield line for a double. Moore grounded out to Anastos, scoring Carrell, but Dinan grounded out to Austin and Yarmouth clung to an 11-10 advantage.
"I didn't think I'd pitch at all," Cooper said. "Yesterday, I could barely walk. Today, I thought I'd be a last resort. I went out there in the middle of the game and started warming up and felt good, so I kept going. I was willing to do whatever it took. I was trying to hit my spots. I knew if I could do that, I could trust my defense. I wanted to put everything into every pitch. I let them hit it and we made plays."
In the bottom half, the Clippers got a much-needed insurance run.
O'Gorman led off with a single to center and moved to second on an error by Cimino. Nielsen then popped to right and Benoit made a nice sliding catch. When Anastos popped out to Twitchell, it appeared the Rangers would escape, but Austin ripped a shot to left to drive home O'Gorman for a 12-10 lead.
"I just look for a certain spot and it it's there, I'm swinging," Austin said. "I went up there pretty confident. I swung at the first pitch. I hadn't had anything to hit all day and was pretty frustrated."
"There's a reason (Monica's) first-team all-conference," McMullin said. "We love to have her at the plate and in the field. She's just a tremendous leader. She's one person who loves to win and hates to lose more than I do. She's responded very well."
Robichaud flew out to left to end the frame.
If Cooper's work in the fifth was impressive, her effort in the sixth was even more so and she posted the lone zero of the day.
Twitchell led off with a single off Anastos' glove, but Benoit popped out to Austin, Sarah Felkel grounded out to Anastos (moving Twitchell to second) and after Twitchell stole third, Mann fouled off several pitches before Cooper got her to stare at strike three to end the threat.
"That was awesome," Cooper said. "I know Audrey. She's an awesome player. She kept fouling them off and Kallie called an outside pitch and I threw inside down by accident and it happened to work out."
One big blow opened things up even further in the bottom of the sixth.
Levinson drew a walk leading off and after Morrill struck out looking, Thompson drew a walk.
That brought up Hutchinson, the field hockey standout, who has struggled much of the season at the plate.
She saved her best for the biggest moment of the season.
Hutchinson got under a Carrell offering and off the bat, the ball appeared headed for Haley Felkel's glove in leftfield, but it kept drifting and drifting, Felkel ran out of real estate and the ball dropped over the fence for a critical three-run home run, stretching Yarmouth's lead to 15-10.
"I just wanted to get the bat on the ball and help the team," Hutchinson said. "My sophomore year, I think was kind of a peak for me. This year, I've focused on other sports, but with the run we're making now, I'm focusing more. I've had an issue with a lot of pop-ups, but once I looked up and noticed it went farther than what I expected, I knew it was out and I knew we were going to win. We all just needed those insurance runs to finish strong."
"That gave us so much breathing room," Austin said. "(Kallie's) been so up-and-down, so it's absolutely amazing for her to come up and hit that."
"The one thing you want as a pitcher is extra runs and a little room for error," Cooper said. "That's what (Kallie) was able to do."
"That was huge," McMullin added. "I had told (Kallie) to take that pitch because I didn't want her to go after something, so I'm happy she didn't listen to me. She's hit the ball harder lately and we've moved her up in the lineup."
O'Gorman popped out to second and Nielsen grounded out to short, setting up the top of the seventh inning and Greely's final chance.
Not surprisingly, the Rangers didn't go quickly or quietly.
Cooper got Haley Felkel to pop foul to Nielsen, but walked Carrell. When Cimino grounded out to third, the game was on the brink of ending, but a liner off the bat of Moore in Austin's direction went through the usually sure-fielding shortstop's legs for an error, to keep the game alive.
"I played a bounce and it didn't bounce," Austin said. "Not too big of a deal. I knew we'd get the out, so I wasn't too worried."
Dinan followed with a double to right, which wound up going out of play for a ground rule double, scoring Carrell and putting runners at second and third.
If Twitchell had reached, the tying run would have come to the plate, but after getting ahead of the slugger 0-2, Cooper got her to loft a fly ball to right-center and while it carried, Robichaud was able to get back and before running out of room, squeezed the ball for the game's final out.
The clock read 6:43 p.m. and Yarmouth had a 15-11 victory, its first playoff win since June 9, 2006 (5-4 over Wells in the quarterfinals), back when Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart and "Cars" was the top movie in the land.
"I knew Michelle had it," Cooper said. "That was just awesome. A great way to end the game. This team is such a family and we love each other. Everyone on the team is amazing. The fact we're able to do it with this team makes it that much better."
"This means a lot, especially for the senior class which has held the program together," Hutchinson said. "We have the talent and we have the ability to come back and be scrappy and aggressive and resilient."
"It's huge for the program," McMullin added. "It's exciting. We got this far last year and didn't win, so our goal was to get past what we did last year. It was crazy. Not what you'd think for a playoff game. Both teams struggled pitching-wise. it just showed you need bats to win. We've learned from mistakes and when we make mistakes, we talk about fixing them. It's not making the mistakes, but what you do after. We talk a lot about body language. Struggling early on has helped us late and our bats have come alive, which always helps."
The Clippers benefited most from 17 Greely walks and five wild pitches, but they did produce nine hits, paced by two apiece from O'Gorman and Thompson. Nielsen doubled and Hutchinson homered. Anastos and Austin both scored three runs, Levinson, O'Gorman and Thompson each touched home twice and Hutchinson, Morrill and Nielsen had one run apiece. Hutchinson had three RBI, while Levinson, Morrill, O'Gorman and Thompson all had two and Anastos and Austin finished with one apiece.
Thompson surrendered six runs (five earned) on five hits and six walks in 2.2 innings. She also threw two wild pitches.
St. Pierre improved to 2-1 on the season after earning the win in her 1.1-inning stint. She gave up three runs on three hits.
"Andrea's been huge," said McMullin. "As a freshman, she's got some steel nerves."
Cooper got the save, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits and a walk in three critical innings. She struck out one.
"Mari's had a tough season," Hutchinson said. "The only thing we can do is stand behind her. The second I saw her coming in to pitch, I was shocked. I was very proud of the effort she made and the power she had behind her ball."
"Mari has been in so much pain, but she's a trouper," Austin said. "We recently watched, as a team, a documentary on the 2004 Red Sox and when Curt Schilling came on, she caught her breath and thought that was her. We see ourselves as "The Idiots" of Western Maine softball. Whatever it takes."
"Mari hasn't pitched all week and I didn't think she'd pitch today at all, but she said, 'Coach, I'm ready,'" McMullin added. "It just goes to show how tough that kid is. She's battled a back injury. She's a competitor, a gamer."
Not this year
For Greely, Cimino and Haley Felkel both had three hits, while Dinan added two. Cimino, Dinan and Moore all doubled. Carrell, Moore and Twitchell all scored two runs, while Benoit, Cimino, Dinan, Haley Felkel and Sarah Felkel each touched home once. Benoit, Dinan and Sarah Felkel all drove in two runs, while Eisenhart, Haley Felkel and Moore had one RBI apiece. Haley Felkel, Sarah Felkel and Twitchell each stole a base.
Carrell (0-1) took the loss, despite being the Rangers' most effective pitcher. She gave up seven runs (six earned) on seven hits and six walks in 4.1 innings and fanned one. Cimino surrendered five earned runs on two hits and six walks in 1.2 innings of work. She struck out two and threw a wild pitch. Moore didn't retire any of the seven batters she faced, walking five and hitting two. She also threw four wild pitches as she gave up three runs (all earned).
"It was quite a battle," Brady said. "A really long game. I thought the girls did well to combat the situation we put ourselves in. We played our best team softball today. I always thought we had a chance. I knew we'd get runners on and could score. We just couldn't score enough today. If you'd told me before the game we'd have 11 runs, I would have said that would be great. We have a good defense, but you can't defend walks. They got on base and scored."
While Greely fell short of getting back to the state final, it had its moments this spring.
"I thought we had a great season even with our ups and downs," Brady said. "The conference was so well balanced this year. There wasn't a lot of dominant pitching, so it just depended on the day."
The Rangers graduate Dinan and Twitchell, but return everyone else, suggesting they'll be back in the hunt in 2015.
"We want to keep learning and getting better," said Brady. "The girls have been great. We'll hope to go further next year."
Nothing to lose
Cape Elizabeth, with its gaudy 17-0 record (after edging No. 8 Poland in Thursday's quarterfinal, 2-0), prolific offense and strong pitching is next up for the Clippers. The only previous playoff encounter came in the 2001 quarterfinals (a 2-1 Capers' victory).
Yarmouth, which last made it to a regional final way back in 1996 when it was in Western C, is clearly a different (and better) team than it was in the two losses to the Capers back in April and with nothing to lose, thinks it can shock the world Saturday afternoon.
"Cape's an amazing team and we have so much respect for them," Austin said. "They have amazing offense and can do it defensively. We know we have to play a great game. We have it in us. We have to limit errors and hit the ball."
"On any given day we can beat anyone," Hutchinson said. "At this point, we have confidence in ourselves. We'll focus on the team. We know their team really well. They're all hitters."
"We want to play Cape," Cooper added. "We're really excited. We came close to beating them at the beginning of the season. We have as good a chance as anyone. Why not us? I'm going to go home and ice and load up on Ibuprofen and try to pull it off for Saturday."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous Greely-Yarmouth playoff results
2013 Western B quarterfinal
Greely 9 Yarmouth 3
2006 Western B quarterfinal
Greely 3 Yarmouth 2