Greely softball holds off Yarmouth to advance to semis
CUMBERLAND—Greely's fourth-ranked softball team came into Wednesday's Western Class B quarterfinal against a No. 12 Yarmouth squad that had nothing to lose, hoping to ride its playoff experience and take control quickly.
It took all of one inning for the Rangers to do just that at Twin Brook Recreation Center.
Greely posted a four-spot in the bottom of the first, highlighted by a home run-turned sacrifice fly off the bat of junior first baseman Mykaela Twitchell and a clutch opposite field, run-scoring double by sophomore catcher Audrey Mann.
Mann was just getting warmed up, as she would drive in two more runs, Twitchell homered later in the contest and senior ace pitcher Danielle Cimino was steady throughout as the Rangers went on to a 9-3 victory.
Mann had three hits and drove in three runs, while Cimino worked around a few loud hits to hold the Clippers at bay, helping Greely improve to 13-4, end Yarmouth's season at 9-9 and advance to a semifinal round showdown at nemesis Fryeburg (16-1), the defending regional champion and No. 1 seed, Saturday at 4 p.m.
"The girls were totally ready for today's game," said first-year Rangers coach Jess Gomez. "Everyone contributed. That was really good to see."
While Greely and Yarmouth are just a few miles apart and play twice every season (see sidebar, below), the schools had just one prior playoff meeting, a 3-2 Rangers' victory in the 2006 semifinal round.
Both teams have enjoyed dramatic moments and satisfying victories during the regular season.
Greely had no answers for Fryeburg in the opener, a 4-1 home loss. The Rangers then rattled off six straight victories: 15-2 over visiting Lake Region, 2-0 against visiting Gray-New Gloucester, 6-0 at Poland, 9-0 over visiting Sacopee, 4-2 against visiting Wells and 11-7 over visiting Falmouth, but the run ended with an 8-7 loss at Falmouth May 4. After a 6-2 first half of the season, Greely went 6-2 in the second half as well, winning six in a row: 19-3 (in five innings) at Freeport, 11-2 over visiting York, 9-2 at Lake Region, 7-1 over visiting Yarmouth, 11-8 at Yarmouth and 11-3 at York, before closing with losses at Cape Elizabeth (5-0) and Fryeburg (6-1). The Rangers' 12-4 mark gave them the No. 4 seed for the postseason.
The Clippers wound up .500, but were in almost every game. They opened with a 5-1 home victory over Freeport and after falling, 12-5, to visiting Wells, crushed host Lake Region (14-4) and visiting Old Orchard Beach (19-4, in five innings). Losses at Gray-New Gloucester (5-4) and Poland (5-1) followed before Yarmouth got back in the win column, 11-1, at Old Orchard Beach. Frustration then set in with a 5-3 home loss to Fryeburg (when a game-tying home run was disallowed when a runner was controversially ruled to have missed a base) and a 7-6 home loss to Cape Elizabeth, when a late rally fell just short. After a 5-3 win at Falmouth, the Clippers fell at Greely, 7-1, then shocked the local softball world with a stunning 3-2 victory at Cape Elizabeth, which proved to be the Capers' lone setback of the spring. Yarmouth couldn't build on it, however, falling, 11-8, at home to Greely. The up-and-down play continued with a 9-1 win at Freeport and a 5-3 (9 inning) home loss to Falmouth. The Clippers then closed with a 6-3 win at York, allowing them to earn the 12th and final seeed in Western B.
Tuesday, in the preliminary round, Yarmouth went to No. 5 Mountain Valley and romped, 13-2, the Clippers' first playoff victory since 2006.
Thursday, Yarmouth liked its chances to upset Greely, but the Rangers weren't about to bow out on their home field and made it 20 wins in their last 25 meetings with the Clippers.
Cimino fell behind Yarmouth's leadoff hitter, senior pitcher Mckenzie Gray, 3-0, but battled back to get Gray to ground out sharply to junior third baseman Elyse Dinan. Junior second baseman Julia Anastos then blooped a single to right, but Cimino retired freshman centerfielder Mari Cooper on a ground ball back to the mound (Cimino forced Anastos at second) and Cooper then started to steal second base, stopped and was picked off to end the frame.
By the next time the Clippers came to the plate. they were well behind.
Greely freshman shortstop Sarah Felkel got the trouble started in the bottom of the first, walking on a 3-2 pitch. Sophomore centerfielder Haley Felkel then beat out an infield hit on an 0-2 pitch. After Dinan hit back to the mound, with Gray forcing Sarah Felkel at third, Cimino helped herself with a single to left to load the bases. Sophomore leftfielder Miranda Moore then drove in the first run with a dribbler to Gray's right. Gray tried to throw out Moore at first, but the throw was high, allowing Dinan to also cross home with the second run. That brought up Twitchell, who hit a towering fly deep to right. Yarmouth rightfielder Colleen Sullivan went back to the fence, reached up and brought the ball back while bouncing off the fence for the out, but Elizabeth Shibles, who had run for Cimino, came home with the third run.
"I got a lot of power behind that one," Twitchell said. "I was way out in front of it, so unfortunately, the backspin kept it in."
That brought up Mann, who slapped a double that Sullivan couldn't reach, down the rightfield line, and Moore came in to make it a 4-0 game.
"I felt good at the plate," Mann said. "I just came in positive. I'm usually a pull hitter. I don't usually hit it the other way. I've worked a lot on that. It was really important for us to start with a lot of energy."
"Audrey has improved," Gomez said. "Until a couple games ago, she wasn't hitting. She's come so far. She ran off the field with her face so lit up. She couldn't believe she hit it to rightfield. It was amazing to see her perform well."
Cimino was under scrutiny to start the second, as two pitches were deemed illegal by the umpires. She gave up a leadoff walk to Yarmouth's talented sophomore catcher, Kallie Hutchinson, but got junior first baseman Melissa Levinson to line hard to Sarah Felkel at short and Felkel was able to throw out Hutchinson at first for a double play. A strikeout of junior shortstop Monica Austin ended that frame.
Gray had her best inning in the bottom half, inducing three ground balls, but the Clippers weren't able to score in the top of the third.
Freshman third baseman Cat Thompson led off with a single, but senior designated player Carlene Shaw struck out, sophomore leftfielder Michelle Robichaud sacrificed and Gray hit a sharp grounder that appeared ticketed for centerfield, but Cimino stabbed it and threw to first to end the threat.
Greely got its bats going again in the bottom of the third, as Dinan led off with a flare single to center and Cimino walked. After Moore popped out to Gray, Twitchell bunted the runners up and Mann came through again, this time with a sharp single to center. Dinan scored and Shibles was held at third. Gray avoided further damage by getting freshman designated player Charlotte Benoit to pop out, but the Rangers had extended their lead to 5-0.
Gomez credited Greely' fast start to its performance in a scrimmage against reigning Western A champion South Portland Tuesday.
"South Portland's obviously a great team," Gomez said. "The girls played well against a tough team and stayed positive. It helped us."
Yarmouth got a spark in the fourth, courtesy Levinson.
After Anastos lined out to second, Cooper walked and Hutchinson struck out, Levinson got all of a Cimino delivery and sent the ball soaring over the fence in left-center for a two-run home run, pulling the Clippers within 5-2 and giving them some life.
"We were stealing, so we told her she had to swing," first-year Yarmouth coach Amy McMullin said. "She swung and made the best of it. She had a great season. She deserved it."
"That one, she went out and got it," Cimino said. "It was a pitch on the hands, she stuck the bat out there and out it went."
Hopes of a comeback continued when Austin reached on an error, but Cimino got Thompson to pop out to second to keep it a three-run game.
Greely kept the pressure on in the bottom half, but couldn't score. Freshman rightfielder Evan Carrell led off with an infield hit and with one down, Haley Felkel blooped a single to left. Dinan had a chance to produce a big hit, but instead, grounded out to first. After Cimino walked to load the bases, Moore flew out to center, keeping Yarmouth alive.
Cimino returned to form in the fifth, allowing just a two-out single to center by Gray (with Haley Felkel holding her at first after making a tremendous slide in the outfield to come up with the ball before it could go all the way to the fence), then getting Anastos to ground out for out number three.
In the bottom half, Twitchell led off and got a measure of revenge for being denied in the first inning, sending a towering shot deep to right that Sullivan could only watch soar over the fence to make it a 6-2 game.
"I got a little jammed on that one," Twitchell said. "Our fence is short, I'm not going to lie. It made up for the other one."
"It's so nice to watch Mykaela hit," Gomez said. "She has a nice swing."
Mann added her third hit, an infield single, and with two down, Sarah Felkel walked, but Haley Felkel grounded into a force to end the inning.
Cimino surrendered a two-out walk to Levinson in the sixth, but got Austin to ground to third for out number three.
In the bottom half, Greely broke it open.
Dinan led off with a blistering shot to right that Sullivan couldn't reach. By the time the outfielder got to the ball, Dinan was around second, heading for third base and a triple. Cimino laid down a bunt that Yarmouth thought was a foul ball, but instead was ruled fair, and Cimino got to first with Dinan holding at third. After Shibles pinch-ran, a bunt by Moore resulted in the Clippers holding the ball, loading the bases. Twitchell struck out looking, but Mann came through once more, this time without swinging, as she drew a walk that brought home Dinan for a 7-2 lead. Benoit lined out for the second out, but Carrell produced a little bloop over short that Austin couldn't reach and the single scored Shibles and Moore to make it 9-2. Austin was shaken up on the play, but was able to stay in the game as Gray retired Sarah Felkel on a pop-up to end the sixth.
Cimino ran into a little trouble in the seventh, but eventually slammed the door.
Thompson led off with a single to right and was replaced by pinch-runner Bre Morrill. Morrill went to second when pinch-hitter Eleanor O'Gorman grounded back to Cimino. Robichaud then came up and ripped a shot to the fence in left for an RBI double. Cimino closed it down from there, however, getting Gray to ground out to short and Anastos to hit a ground ball back to the mound and although Cimino's throw was high, Twitchell went up to get it and touched first to end it.
Greely 9 Yarmouth 3.
"We needed good momentum," Cimino said. "It felt good to win it and to play so well. We had good energy all game and everyone was really in it."
The Rangers were led by three hits and three RBI from Mann and two hits and two RBI from Carrell. Dinan had two hits and scored three times. Cimino and Haley Felkel also had multiple hits. Shibles scored twice and Haley Felkel and Twitchell (who drove in two runs) also touched home. Moore also had an RBI. Mann (double), Dinan (triple) and Twitchell (home run) helped Greely (which had 13 hits) hit for the cycle as a team.
Cimino improved to 13-4, after allowing three earned runs on six hits and three walks in seven innings. She struck out four.
"I had to get comfortable the first and second innings," Cimino said. "I was comfortable on the mound. Audrey was calling a good game."
"(Danielle) was hitting her spots," said Mann. "She was awesome."
For Yarmouth, Thompson had two hits, Cooper, Levinson and Morrill scored and Levinson drove in a pair of runs, while Robichaud (who doubled) had the other RBI. Gray, in her swan song, took the loss after allowing nine runs (six earned) on 13 hits and five walks. She struck out one.
"Mckenzie Gray's the total package," McMullin said. "Totally composed, all about her teammates. She didn't want the credit. It didn't matter if she struck someone out or gave up a home run, her face on the mound is pure class."
The Clippers quickly got over the disappointment of the loss.
"The girls exceeded all their expectations and they're really happy," McMullin said. "We're not focusing on this game right here, but our whole season and the accomplishments we made. It's never easy to lose, but Greely's a good team. Four runs is hard to come back from against a pitcher like that. We get psyched out against this team. It's frustrating, because that's not us. When we settle down, we play our game. What I love about this team is we don't give up. Whether it's two runs or 20, they'll fight. That shows a lot about their character.
"The season was bettter than I anticipated. It was a special group, especially the seniors. We beat Cape, something nobody else did. We came a long way. Last year, they got (mercy ruled) a few times and this year, we were in every game."
With only Gray and Shaw graduating, it's likely the Clippers will be even better in 2014.
"We're still young," McMullin said. "We lose two and the rest are coming back. This season will do a lot for the future of the program. We hope the freshmen can make the playoffs all four years. It's a bold goal."
Including the two losses that bookended this season, Greely has lost 10 of its last 12 games versus Fryeburg (which got a no-hitter from Sarah Harriman in a 12-0 quarterfinal round win over No. 8 Lincoln Academy), including playoff defeats the past two years. The Rangers feel enough is enough and hope to make the Raiders their next victim.
"We have to see the ball and be confident," Mann said.
"I think Fryeburg's all in our head," said Twitchell. "If we look at them as a new team, we'll go in and hopefully get a win out of it."
"We need to stay confident the entire game and go in swinging," added Cimino. "Last time, we were timid at the plate and analyzed everything (Harriman) threw. We don't need to do that."
Gomez agrees that the time is now.
"This gives us confidence," she said. "The tone from this game going into the next game is great. The girls are ready to take a win from Fryeburg. We can beat them. We just have to do it."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
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