The unthinkable becomes reality…Freeport wins Class B South baseball title

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Freeport’s baseball team dances on the infield after recording the final out of Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over Cape Elizabeth in the Class B South Final. The Falcons won their first-ever regional title and will look to cap their amazing run Saturday when they play Old Town in the state final in Bangor.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Freeport 3 Cape Elizabeth 1

F- 100 110 0- 3 4 2
CE- 000 100 0- 1 6 4

Top 1st
Davenport doubled to left-center, Joey Burke scored.

Top 4th
Josh Burke scored on error.

Bottom 4th
Macdonald scored on error.

Top 5th
Doughty scored on wild pitch.

Repeat hitter:
CE- Macdonald

Runs:
F- Joey Burke, Josh Burke, Doughty
CE- Macdonald

RBI:
F- Davenport

Doubles:
F- Davenport
CE- Macdonald, Tinsman

Stolen bases:
F- Wagner
CE- Macdonald

Left on base:
F- 5
CE- 5

Davenport and Wagner; Peterson, Hewitt (5), Peterson (5) and Tinsman

F:
Davenport (W, 9-2) 7 IP 6 H 1 R 0 ER 0 BB 3 K

CE:
Peterson (L, 3-3) 4.1 IP 3 H 3 R 1 ER 0 BB 3 K
Hewitt 0.1 IP 0 H 0 R 1 BB 0 K 2 WP
Peterson 2.1 IP 1 H 0 R 0 BB 2 K 1 WP

Time: 1:30

STANDISH—They were told it couldn’t and wouldn’t be done.

When they were 3-5 at the season’s midway point.

When they went into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed.

When they faced York in the quarterfinals.

When they faced pedigreed Greely in the semifinals.

And Wednesday evening, when they had to get past top-ranked Cape Elizabeth.

But every obstacle the Freeport Falcons found standing in their way, they have hurdled and as a result, the most delicious, unexpected, utterly impossible story in recent Maine high school baseball memory will culminate with one final chapter.

In the state final.

Wednesday evening, at the Larry Mahaney Diamond on the campus of St. Joseph’s College, Freeport stepped someplace it had never stepped before, on to the big stage of a regional final, where most expected they would finally meet their match against a team that beat them by 10 runs earlier this spring.

Instead, the Falcons embraced the moment, held it tight and never let it go.

Nerves?

Not a chance.

In the top of the first inning, after junior centerfielder Joey Burke reached on an error, senior do-everything ace Jack Davenport laced a double to left-center and Burke scored for a quick 1-0 lead.

After Davenport worked out of jams the first three innings, the Falcons added a second run in the fourth, as sophomore designated hitter Josh Burke singled with one out, was sacrificed to second base by senior shortstop Caleb Rice and came home on an error.

Cape Elizabeth got a run back in the bottom half, with an unearned run of its own, but in the fifth, junior second baseman Max Doughty scored on a wild pitch and that did it for scoring.

The rest of the way, it was Davenport and a heavy dose of Freeport’s defense, as the Capers hit several balls hard, but right at Falcons’ outfielders, and as darkness descended, a sight never before seen prepared to play out.

In the seventh inning, Davenport recorded his lone 1-2-3 inning and when senior first baseman Bryce Hewitt grounded out to end it, the impossible dream had come true as Freeport prevailed, 3-1.

The Falcons won their 11th game in their last 12 outings, improved to 14-6, ended Cape Elizabeth’s season at 13-6 and advanced to the first Class B state final in program history, where they will battle Old Town (18-1) Saturday at 11 a.m., at Mansfield Field in Bangor.

“It means a lot to me and my teammates and to make history, again, is just amazing,” Davenport said. “We just keep pushing ourselves and it just keeps getting better.”

Not midnight yet

Without question, Freeport’s baseball team has been the feel-good, inspirational story of the 2016 spring sports season.

The Falcons came into the year hopeful of contending, but they weren’t viewed as a serious title threat and when they started the year 3-5, even a playoff berth was in doubt.

Then, Freeport flipped the switch, winning seven straight games, including pivotal, confidence-inspiring victories over two-time defending state champion Greely and perennial power York. The streak ended with an extra inning loss at Traip Academy in the finale, but the Falcons went into the postseason full of belief.

As the No. 7 seed, Freeport downed No. 10 Morse, 5-1, in the preliminary round for its first playoff win since 1985.

The Falcons then decided to stay awhile, upsetting No. 2 York, 7-2, in the quarterfinals and shocking No. 3 Greely, 1-0, in Saturday’s semifinal round, setting off a raucous celebration as the program reached the regional final for the first time.

At the other end of the spectrum is Cape Elizabeth, a program which, prior to Wednesday, had played in 23 regional finals, 15 state games and had won 10 titles.

Last year, the Capers suffered an agonizing and controversial 3-1, eight-inning loss to Greely in the Western B Final and spent every day since doing everything in their power to return.

Despite some up-and-down play during the regular season, caused in large part by shaky defense which appeared to have been shored up, Cape Elizabeth finished 11-5, but the Capers beat the right teams at the right time and earned the top seed in the region for the second year in a row.

Cape Elizabeth advanced by downing No. 8 Wells (12-0, in six-innings) and fourth-ranked Maranacook (7-1) with relative ease in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.

In the teams’ lone regular season meet May 4 in Freeport, the Capers rolled, 10-0, but the Falcons have become a vastly more formidable team since.

Cape Elizabeth also won the only prior playoff encounter, 4-0, in Freeport, on Will LeBlond’s four-hit shutout, in the 2012 preliminary round.

Wednesday evening, everything appeared to be leaning in the Capers’ favor, but the Falcons, in front of a huge and vocal crowd, under beautiful 74-degree skies, proved that fairy tales don’t have to end.

Freeport was unfazed by its surroundings and managed to do something in the first inning, score a run, that it couldn’t do in seven innings in the regular season meeting.

Doughty popped out to third to begin the game, but Joey Burke’s grounder was first was misplayed by Hewitt and Burke reached safely. That loomed large, as Davenport boomed a double to the gap in left-center and Burke came home for the quick lead.

“We shouldn’t ever be nervous,” Davenport said. “It’s just another game to us. We were focused and ready. I was just trying to put a big hit up for my team. We wanted to show them who we are. That boosted our energy even more. To put a quick run up on them, it pushed them back a little and gave us confidence.”

“That first run was huge,” senior leftfielder Caiden Shea said. “Jack is Mr. Clutch. He’s helped us out so much. It’s been so nice playing along side him for awhile.”

Davenport took third on the throw home, but was stranded there as sophomore catcher Colby Wagner grounded to first and sophomore designated hitter Josh Burke popped to second.

Davenport was sharp in the bottom half, getting senior centerfielder Nate Ingalls to ground to short and sophomore catcher Brendan Tinsman to pop to the catcher. Senior rightfielder Dylan Roberts singled to left, but he was thrown out stealing, Wagner to Doughty to end the frame.

“As the away team, we wanted to get one early and if we got a zero in the bottom half, we’d have them on their heels and that really paid off for us,” Freeport coach Bill Ridge said.

In the top of the second, Rice reached when his grounder got through Hewitt for an error. The Falcons weren’t able to capitalize, however, as Shea grounded into a shortstop-to-second base force out, junior first baseman Austin Langley struck out swinging and senior third baseman Ben Humphrey looked at strike three.

The Capers threatened in the bottom half, but came up empty.

After Peterson flew to center and senior second baseman Matt Riggle grounded out to short, junior third baseman Pat Macdonald singled to center and sophomore designated hitter Sean Agrodnia dropped a single into right. Senior rightfielder Jack O’Rourke wasn’t able to deliver the run, however, as he flew out to center.

Peterson made quick work of the Falcons in the top of the third, getting Doughty to fly deep to left, Joey Burke to ground out to second and Davenport to look at strike three.

Cape Elizabeth again had a two-out threat in the bottom half, but again couldn’t score.

After Hewitt lined hard to Langley at first and Ingalls grounded out Langley-to-Davenport, Tinsman crushed a ball into the left-centerfield gap. Joey Burke dove for it, but couldn’t come with it and Tinsman reached second with a double. Davenport escaped the jam, however, striking out Roberts swinging.

“Runners on base don’t get in my head,” Davenport said. “I just have to make good pitches and I know my defense will help me out.”

In the fourth, Freeport took advantage of more Capers’ largesse to extend the lead.

Wagner led off with a deep fly to center, but Ingalls was there to record the out. Josh Burke then singled up the middle and Rice sacrificed to third, only to have Macdonald throw the ball away, putting runners at second and third. Peterson got Shea to ground to second with the runners staying put and appeared to get out of it when Langley grounded to first, but Hewitt couldn’t come up with the ball and Langley was safe as Burke came home to make it 2-0.

“Marshall pitched awesome too, but the small-ball we did, taking advantage of errors, that was huge for us,” Ridge said.

Humphrey’s line drive bid to bring home another run died in the glove of sophomore shortstop Finn Bowe, ending the frame.

In the bottom half, Peterson led off with a line drive to right center, but junior rightfielder Josh Spaulding made the catch. Riggle then struck out swinging, but again the Capers threatened with two down and this time, it produced a run, as Macdonald doubled over Shea’s head to the warning track in left, stole third and when Wagner tried to pick Macdonald off on a ball in the dirt, the throw sailed over Humphrey’s head for an error and Macdonald came home to cut the deficit to 2-1.

Agrodnia looked at strike three, but Cape Elizabeth had life.

Until Freeport got the run back in the fifth.

Doughty led off with a single to left and went to second on Joey Burke’s sacrifice bunt. That did it for Peterson, momentarily, who was replaced by Hewitt. Hewitt’s first pitch to Davenport was high, over Tinsman’s mitt, for a wild pitch, and Doughty went to third. After two strikes, Hewitt had a chance to strike Davenport out, but his pitch was low and bounced past Tinsman, allowing Doughty to score for a 3-1 lead.

Davenport grounded to second for the second out, but Wagner walked and Wood brought Peterson back in. After yet another wild pitch, Wagner stole third, but Josh Burke was caught looking at strike three and the game remained 3-1.

In the bottom half, O’Rourke hit a slow roller to third, but Humphrey threw him out on a bang-bang play. Hewitt then lined deep to right, but the ball was hit right at Spaulding. Ingalls then continued Cape Elizabeth’s penchant for the two-out hit, beating out a slow roller to short, but Tinsman hit a chopper back to Davenport and Davenport threw to first to retire the side.

In the top of the sixth, Freeport went quietly, as Rice grounded out to third (with Hewitt making a nice scoop at first on a low throw), Shea looked at strike three and Langley popped out to second.

Cape Elizabeth got its chance in the bottom half, as Roberts reached on an error by Humphrey at third, who threw low to first, but Peterson just missed tying it with a fly ball to the base of the wall in left which Shea cradled for the out.

“I had a pretty good jump on the ball, but I was worried,” said Shea. “I didn’t see the fence and the track was under me, but I got it.”

Riggle then flew out to medium-deep left and Macdonald lined out to center to end the threat.

In the top of the seventh, the Falcons got Humphrey on to start the inning, as he singled down the leftfield line, but he was caught stealing, Doughty hit a slow grounder to the right of the mound which Peterson had to barehand before throwing the runner out. Joey Burke then grounded out to short to send the contest to the bottom of the seventh.

Where Davenport slammed the door and propelled his team into history.

Agrodnia grounded out to Rice at short leading off. O’Rourke then hit the ball hard, but it was right at Joey Burke in center.

Then, at exactly 8 p.m., Hewitt grounded the first pitch he saw to Langley at first. Langley bobbled the ball, but he recovered and threw to Davenport covering and Freeport had a 3-1 victory and a first-ever regional championship.

“Austin handled a tough ball,” Shea said. “We practice that play 100 times.”

It’s safe to say that unprecedented pandemonium then reigned.

“It’s unbelievable,” Shea said. “We’ve worked at this for so long. I still haven’t taken it all in yet. We’re playing for each other and with each other. It’s awesome. One of the big things was our (April vacation) trip to North Carolina. We played on some big fields there. We played at Davidson College. We didn’t get the results we wanted down there, but we got used to playing on the big stage. The past few games, it’s all been big-time for us.

“We had to control our emotions and we know that even if we get down, we can come back. We knew there were teams underestimating us and we wanted to prove them wrong. We wanted to come out and play our game and win. We knew it was going to be a tough game. Cape’s a great team with some great players and pitchers. Overall, we were ready to play. We knew we had to play our game. The feeling of being out here is amazing. It’s been a long time coming.”

“We knew we had to put the ball in play and they made errors and it worked our way,” Davenport said. “Once we had that seven-game run, we knew we could do amazing things. It’s worked out. We keep pushing each other.”

“Unbelievable is a good word for this,” Ridge added. “It’s the seniors. Those five seniors are unbelievable. The character they show. They get the guys going and keep the guys going. They’re great players. They weren’t always good leaders, but they’ve turned themselves into that.”

Davenport, who was snubbed and not named a finalist for the Mr. Baseball Award, continues to get the last laugh as he improved to 9-2, surrendering one unearned run on six hits in seven innings. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out three.

“I felt great,” Davenport said. “This is a nice ballpark. It’s a taller mound, but I came out with energy and focus and it worked out. My defense is unreal. They make the play no matter what. I’m always confident in them.”

“Jack’s an amazing pitcher,” Shea said. “He’s pulled us out of tight places.”

“They hadn’t seen Jack and we feel pretty good when he pitches,” Ridge added. “I’m always confident with Jack. He goes out there and I know he’ll pound the strike zone and get outs. Today, they hit the ball hard a few times, but it was right at people. Our outfield is tremendous. Those three run everything down.”

Freeport didn’t have a multiple hitter, but it didn’t matter, as Joey Burke, Josh Burke and Doughty all touched home. Davenport had the game’s lone RBI and the Falcons’ only extra base hit. Wagner stole a base.

Freeport stranded five runners.

While it won’t show up in the box score, the Falcons were bolstered by their ever-growing fan section, which certainly inspired them to victory, as they’ve done frequently in recent weeks.

“I think the whole town of Freeport was here,” Shea said. “Seeing everyone was such great support. We had people from Pownal, Durham, everywhere. They cancelled Little League games to come support us.”

“The town didn’t think this was coming, but once we kept winning, they kept coming out and supporting us,” Davenport said.

“We knew this was a special thing, but we didn’t realize how special,” Ridge added. “I think there were more people here than in Freeport tonight. They’ve supported us the entire playoff run. We hear about it at school, people send us emails, it’s unbelievable.”

Cape Elizabeth coach Andy Wood showed great respect for the Falcons in his postgame comments.

“Their entire crowd was behind them,” Wood said. “It’s special for Coach Ridge. I grew up in South Portland with him. I’m bummed losing, but there’s no one out there better than him. He got those guys playing hot at the right time. I tip my cap to him. They knocked off the three seed, the two seed and the one seed. Baseball’s a funny game. They deserved everything. I hope they finish it off.”

Not again

Cape Elizabeth’s offense was paced by Macdonald, who singled, doubled, stole a base and scored the lone run. Tinsman also doubled.

The Capers stranded five runners and made four costly errors.

Peterson fell to 3-3 after giving up three runs (one earned) on four hits in two different stints which added up to 6.2 innings. He didn’t walk a batter, struck out five and threw a wild pitch.

Hewitt walked one and threw two wild pitches in his one-third inning of relief.

“Not too many people get the opportunity to play on a field like this, underneath the lights with a great crowd,” Wood said. “There was a lot of passion there and not everybody can handle it. Marshall pitched a great game. Davenport just kept us off-balance. Our four errors put them in a good situation. That first run put our backs against the wall. You have to have some luck a long the way. Today, we just couldn’t score runs.”

The Capers won 13 games this spring, but to their chagrin, couldn’t finish the job.

While graduation will deprive the program of Hewitt, Ingalls, O’Rourke, Riggle and Roberts, several other top players return, suggesting Cape Elizabeth might finally get over the hump in 2017.

“The seniors are a special group,” Wood said. “I was excited to coach them. From day one, we knew we’d have a shot to get back here. We’ll keep trying.”

Why not us?

Freeport now has the opportunity to put the cherry on arguably the tastiest sundae in school history when it plays in the state final Saturday.

It will be the school’s first appearance in a boys’ state final in any sport since soccer won the 1978 Class B title.

The Falcons hope to defeat Old Town, which has run roughshod on Class B North, losing just one time all year and downing Belfast, Erskine Academy and Hermon (giving up just one run in three games) in the postseason to advance.

The teams have no playoff history.

Freeport, which will start Josh Burke (who has already beaten Morse and Greely in the postseason), will probably be viewed as the underdog again.

Don’t the “experts” ever learn?

“We have to keep playing our game, be focused, played defense, hit the ball, and I think we’ll be fine,” Davenport said.

“We’re not done yet,” Shea said. “We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We have confidence in Josh. We have to play our game and make plays behind him.”

“It’ll be pitching and defense,” Ridge added. “Josh will be back on the mound for us. I think defensively, our lineup is at its best when he’s on the mound.

“I have no clue about Old Town. We’ll reach out to some people. We won’t change anything. Josh will go after guys and we’ll see what he can do. We’ll enjoy the next few days.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Freeport senior ace Jack Davenport fires to the plate. Davenport didn’t surrender an earned run in claiming his ninth victory this spring.

Cape Elizabeth junior starter Marshall Peterson throws a strike.

Cape Elizabeth senior Jack O’Rourke is out on a bang-bang play at first base as Freeport junior first baseman Austin Langley takes the throw.

Freeport sophomore Colby Wagner steals third base as Cape Elizabeth junior Pat Macdonald takes the throw.

Freeport senior Ben Humphrey is tagged out by Cape Elizabeth sophomore shortstop Finn Bowe on a steal attempt.

Freeport junior Max Doughty dives back into first base ahead of a pickoff throw as Cape Elizabeth senior first baseman Bryce Hewitt catches the ball.

Freeport junior Joey Burke and his teammates take a victory lap after the win, sharing the joy with the Falcons’ countless fans on hand.

Cape Elizabeth senior captains Matt Riggle and Nate Ingalls receive the runner-up plaque.

Freeport’s Caleb Rice, left, Caiden Shea, Max Doughty and Jack Davenport show off the program’s first-ever regional championship trophy.

Previous Cape Elizabeth stories

Season Preview

@ Cape Elizabeth 6 Kennebunk 1

Falmouth 8 @ Cape Elizabeth 2

@ Cape Elizabeth 5 Wells 2

Previous Freeport stories

Season Preview

Class B South prelim
@ Freeport 5 Morse 1

Class B South semifinal
Freeport 1 @ Greely 0 

Previous Cape Elizabeth-Freeport playoff result

2012 Western B preliminary round
Cape Elizabeth 4 @ Freeport 0 

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.