By Ryan Robb
CAPE ELIZABETH— After falling twice in the regular season to rival Cape Elizabeth, the No. 4 ranked Greely Rangers baseball team finally got some sweet redemption in the Western B semifinals Saturday afternoon at the top-rated Capers.
The squads did battle in an epic 10 inning pitcher’s duel, with Greely coming out with the 1-0 victory on a bases loaded single by sophomore Matt Labbe.
However, the way the game went, it could have really been either team’s game.
“The most important game is always game three when you’re talking about our rivals who we play twice a year (regular season),” said Rangers coach Derek Soule. “I think we just wanted it more.”
Greely once again called on freshman Mike Leeman, who started 10 days earlier on the exact same mound and suffered a loss. But the young hurler was determined to put that regular season defeat far behind him.
“I know what I did wrong last time out,” said Leeman. “I wasn’t bringing my shoulder down on my curveball. I just practiced a lot before. I didn’t want to let my team down so I pitched my hardest.”
This time around, his curveball was super sharp, and his performance was nothing short of phenomenal, as he pitched all the way into the eighth inning before being relieved by junior Ben Russell. Leeman’s pitching line read: seven innings, just four singles, one walk, one hit batter, and five strikeouts. But he received a no decision for his effort.
As stellar as Leeman was, the Capers might have gotten an even better outing from its starter.
Senior Ryan Boyington took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and went all 10 frames, yet took the crushing loss. Get this amazing line for Boyington: 10 innings, one unearned run, a mere three singles, two walks (one intentional), to go with five strikeouts. How those statistics don’t spell a win is even more mindboggling. Coming into the day, Boyington had 34 strikeouts and just a two walks in 31 innings and an ERA right around 1.00.
“The guy I try to emulate the most is Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays, he’s my favorite player, he throws complete games with 150 pitches,” said Boyington. “Our team played a heck of a game anyway, to have only two errors through 10 innings is remarkable, we gave everything we had.”
The game was flying by, with the first seven innings taking just over an hour. Boyington mowed down Greely for 1-2-3 innings in the first, second, fourth, and fifth. The sixth inning ended abruptly for the Rangers as senior Sam Stauber, who drew Boyington’s only walk, was gunned out trying to steal second by junior catcher Ezra Wolfinger. The seventh ended in the same fashion, as the speedy senior Nate Martin, who broke up the no-hitter with a liner to center, was also sniped in an attempt to steal second, though he swears he was safe.
Was the no-hitter going through Boyington’s mind at any point?
“Yeah it was,” he admitted. “I was keeping them off balance all day and then Nate Martin, I think he won player of the year for Class B, he’s a great player, he just hit a good ball to center field and it dropped.”
Leeman was dealing as well, with his own 1-2-3 innings in the first, second, and sixth. He faced only four batters in the fourth and fifth innings and always got the Capers out when he needed to. The defense behind him was brilliant, as Greely committed just one error, and it came with two outs in the third. With the wind blowing in, anything in the air was catchable, especially for two time All-State centerfielder Martin, who recorded six putouts, four coming in extra frames. The infield, which has been suspect at times this year for Greely, played with a new confidence behind the locked-in Leeman. All infield positions (except pitcher) are seniors. Kevin Hart made a few nifty plays down at the hot corner, as did Stauber at short. The right side was flawless with Leo Paquette ranging several times to retire Capers, while Pat Copp had a few picks at first. Leeman was also quick off the hill fielding comebackers and bunts. The Rangers knew they had to step it up, and that’s exactly what they did.
“It was a nice time to play one of our best defensive games,” said Soule. “We had only one shutout going into the playoffs. We’ve had 20 over the previous three years. To shutout Cape for 10 innings, I would have never dreamt it.”
The 10th inning was the only scoring frame, and it was a strange sequence at that. Martin led things off with a smoked hit past third base. Next was Copp, who grounded the first pitch to third baseman Sam St. Germain. St. Germain threw to second base in an attempt to nail the lead runner, but his plan backfired immensely. His throw sailed well out of the reach of leaping second baseman Kyle Piscopo, allowing Martin to grab third. If that wasn’t bad enough, the throw back in from right fielder Robert MacDonald was off the mark and Copp scampered up to second, setting up a prime scoring situation for Greely.
Hart was then promptly sent to first via intentional walk to load the bases and draw the infield in. Senior catcher Ryan Howland stepped to the dish eager for a go-ahead base knock. Perhaps overanxious, he grounded Boyington’s first pitch to shortstop Matt Rand who fired home to get the lead runner. Next up was sophomore designated hitter Matt Labbe. After a fouling off a squeeze attempt, Labbe sent an 0-2 fastball back up the middle past Rand and junior Matti Ingraham (pinch running for Copp) ran 90 feet to score the lone run. Hart also tried to score on the hit, but senior center fielder Zach Breed threw him out. Pinch hitter junior Jake Whiting-Kooy then struck out looking to end the frame, but the damage was done.
“I just tried to stay relaxed and stay back,” said Labbe, the offensive hero of the day. “We’ve been working on staying back and going opposite field and up the middle, and just make good contact. Cape’s pitcher threw a lot of off speed and curveballs and we had trouble staying back at first.”
The Rangers did take the lead with the RBI single, but the run was unearned.
“(Boyington was) absolutely fantastic, what more do you want from him? One unearned run, that’s how it goes,” said Cape Elizabeth head coach Chris Hayward. “Greely didn’t hit many balls hard, neither did we. Both pitchers were in command of their curveballs.”
With the Boyington versus Leeman matchup taking much of the focus, junior Ben Russell’s relief performance should not go unnoticed. Russell didn’t pitch much during the regular season, five innings to be exact, because of arm problems. Everyone was a bit unsure of how he’d do in this pressure cooker of a game. However, the calm and collective Russell brought his best stuff and was humming it at the knees.
He entered the game in the top of the eighth and inherited a runner on first with no outs. After a sacrifice bunt from Piscopo and an intentional walk to senior Andrew Guay, Cape Elizabeth had the winning run on second base with only one out. Russell kept cool and threw some nasty off speed pitches and complimented them with decent fastballs to get MacDonald and St. Germain to both pop up to centerfield to end the threat.
“Warming up I was nervous,” said Russell (who earned the win going three innings with two walks, two strikeouts). “First couple pitches I was nervous, then I settled down when I threw my first strike. Teammates were rallying from the bench. I was just trying to funnel the ball to Nate, he made every play, and Leo made a couple of nice plays.”
The Capers stranded two runners in the third inning, two in the seventh, and two in the eighth. They just couldn’t get that one clutch hit to plate a run.
“We knew to win we had to push a couple across,” Hayward said. “We just couldn’t get it done. We had our chances.”
The marathon was a thriller which showcased just how intense this Western B rivalry is. As opposed to a slugfest, this was a classic pitching and defense contest that won’t be forgotten.
“Kids can really rise up in playoff environments,” Soule said. “We had some young players really step up and grow up today on the baseball field. It’s awesome.”
Greely now faces No. 3 Lincoln Academy (14-4) at St. Joseph’s College Tuesday, at 3:00 p.m., for the Western B title. Getting the start will be Sam Stauber, Greely’s veteran ace. Although Lincoln Academy will be somewhat of a mystery to Greely, the Rangers couldn’t ask for much more momentum after this extra inning triumph.
The teams didn’t play this year. The last playoff meeting between the schools came in 2004, when Greely won 11-0 (in six innings) in the semifinals. The squad also met in the 1994 regional final (with the Rangers prevailing, 8-3).
The winner Tuesday will return to St. Joe’s Saturday at 5 p.m., to meet either defending champion Gardiner or Waterville in the Class B state final.