Four local baseball squads optimistic entering playoffs
The four local baseball teams which qualified for the postseason all have legitimate reasons to believe that they can steal the headlines over the next week-and-a-half.
In Western B, Yarmouth completed its finest regular season in 15 years, going 15-1, and earned the No. 2 seed behind Cape Elizabeth. The Clippers opened the playoffs at home Wednesday with a quarterfinal round contest versus No. 7 Gray-New Gloucester.
Defending Class B champion Greely (10-6) earned the No. 5 seed and opens at No. 4 Lisbon (13-3) Thursday at 4:30 p.m.
Falmouth also went 10-6 and wound up sixth, sending the Yachtsmen to No. 3 Lincoln Academy (11-5) for the quarterfinals Wednesday.
In Western C, North Yarmouth produced its best record since moving up in class (11-4-1), earned the fourth seed and will host No. 5 Wiscasset in its quarterfinal Thursday.
Freeport went 4-12 this spring, which was a two-win improvement on 2009, but not enough to send the Falcons to the postseason.
Plenty of stars
Yarmouth got the job done this spring with timely offense, daring baserunning, superb starting and relief pitching and strong defense, all crucial elements for a championship team. Last Wednesday's 10-0 (five inning) home win over NYA gave the Clippers a 15-1 mark and the No. 2 seed in Western B.
"We're excited to be where we are," said Yarmouth coach Marc Halsted. "I don't think anybody expected a 15-1 season, but we were able to get off to a great start at 7-0, stumble against Cape, and then roll through some tough games down the stretch. Comeback wins against Greely and Falmouth were very important in terms of growth for our kids. In fact, we trailed early in each of our last five games and fought back to win and that's encouraging going into the playoffs."
Yarmouth handled host Gray-New Gloucester, 9-3, back on May 5. Last year, in the preliminary round, the Clippers beat the Patriots, 7-2. In 2002, Gray-New Gloucester beat Yarmouth, 7-4, in the quarterfinals.
"I expect Taylor Valente to start for Gray-New Gloucester," Halsted said. "He's a big, rugged kid who's won a lot of games over the past for years for them. They have the Cavallero kid at shortstop who hit over .400 and they have a lot of confidence with nine wins in their last 10 games, especially after starting 0-6. We have a tremendous amount of respect for them and expect a great game.
"We'll counter with (senior ace) Nick Whittaker who went 6-0 this year. He's 18-4 with over 130 strikeouts during his career, but I'm sure he values this final playoff run more than anything he's done individually. He's a team-first type of athlete and he'll help lead us along with the other senior starters, Jeff Kuklewicz, Travis Merrill, Dan Kameisha, and Reed Wommack."
If the Clippers were able to advance, they would host either No. 3 Lincoln (11-5) or No. 6 Falmouth (10-6) in Saturday's semifinal round.
Yarmouth downed the Yachtsmen in two exciting games this spring, 13-5, at home May 14 and 5-2 (scoring five times in the top of the seventh) May 26 in Falmouth. The Clippers won both previous playoff games between the rivals, 6-4, in the 1994 Western C Final and 6-4, in the 1995 Western C semifinals. Yarmouth doesn't play Lincoln Academy in the regular year. The Clippers lost the most recent playoff showdown between the schools, 5-4, in the 2008 semifinals.
Falmouth won its final three regular season games (capped by an 8-0 victory at Wells last Wednesday) to wind up 10-6 and sixth in the region. The Yachtsmen didn't face Lincoln this year. Two years ago, in the quarterfinals, Falmouth lost, 2-1, to Lincoln.
"The boys are playing pretty good baseball going into the first round of the playoffs," said Yachtsmen first-year coach Kevin Winship. "I don't know much about our first round opponent, but at this point, I don't think it matters who you play. It comes down to which team is going to get the timely hit and who plays the best defense. Our pitching has been strong all year and I look for it to continue through the playoffs. I like our chances, we just need to make plays."
Greely came back to the pack a bit after being hard hit by graduation, but still managed to win 10 of 16 games (the Rangers fell in their finale, 5-2, to Cape Elizabeth in a game played at The Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach) and go into the playoffs ranked fifth.
"The one thing the regular season has proven to us is that when we come to play we can compete with anyone and when we don't play with energy, passion and focus we are in trouble," said Greely coach Derek Soule.
The Rangers didn't face Lisbon in the regular season. The last playoff meeting between the schools was 20 years ago, where the Greyhounds took a 5-3 decision in the quarterfinals.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how this team responds in a do-or-die scenario," Soule said. "Lisbon is an excellent team that has the capability of putting a lot of runs on the board. We have to continue to pitch well and play defense and not waste any at-bats."
If Greely advances, it will likely set up yet another playoff showdown with Cape Elizabeth (15-1), the top seed. The Capers beat the Rangers twice this spring (the other was 6-5 in Cape Elizabeth on May 3). The teams have squared off eight previous times (dating back to 1991) in the postseason. Last year's contest was an epic that Greely took, 1-0, in 10 innings, in the semifinals, en route to the championship.
In Western C, NYA finished 11-4-1, its best record since moving up in class in 2006. The Panthers will host a quarterfinal for the first time in five years when they welcome Wiscasset Thursday. The teams didn't play this season and have no playoff history. If NYA advances, it will likely visit top-ranked Dirigo (14-2) in Saturday's semifinals. The Panthers and Cougars didn't play this year or previously in the postseason.
Looking ahead, the Western C Final is Tuesday, June 15 at 3 p.m., at St. Joseph's College in Standish. The Western B Final is the next day at the same location, beginning at 7 p.m.
The Class C state final is Saturday, June 19 at St. Joe's. Start time is 5 p.m. The Class B state game is also June 19 in Bangor. That game begins at 11 a.m.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com