Yarmouth’s baseball team erupts with joy after winning the program’s first-ever Class B state title and its first at any level since 1995, 3-0, over Old Town Saturday afternoon.
Mike Strout photos (except where indicated)
More photos below.
For two weeks, truth was stranger than fiction, improbability reigned supreme and everything that had to go right went right for Yarmouth’s baseball team, which, as a result, authored a story so impossible to believe that Hollywood producers would have rejected it out of hand.
The Clippers, seeded ninth for the Class B South playoffs, capped a playoff run for the ages and produced the program’s signature moment Saturday afternoon at Mahaney Diamond on the campus of St. Joseph’s College in Standish, winning the Class B state title for the first time, thanks to their usual base-running derring-do and yet another spectacular team-wide effort.
Yarmouth was able to “Row the Boat,” dethroned Old Town and now belongs to the ages and the story of how the Clippers wound up at the pinnacle deserves retelling after retelling.
“It’s the most magical season I’ve ever had the opportunity of being a part of and I can’t thank those 22 kids and three coaches enough,” said Yarmouth coach Marc Halsted, whose vision and personal philosophy played out in dreamlike fashion once the calendar flipped to June.
Yarmouth has been a playoff regular, including 2016, when the Clippers were ousted by Greely in the quarterfinals.
Heading into the 2017 campaign, however, Yarmouth was a largely unknown quantity and what was known didn’t lead anyone to believe that a state title was imminent.
While the Clippers returned two fine veterans, seniors Gibson Harnett and Chris Romano, the rest of the roster consisted of either promising players lacking varsity experience, or those new to the team.
Yarmouth High School has no shortage of talented athletes, but after graduating over 90 percent of its offense and 116 innings pitched, this team was simply an enigma and Halsted’s expectations were tempered.
It soon turned out that inexperience didn’t necessarily translate to lack of competitiveness, however, as the Clippers opened with a key 4-3 home win over eventual No. 2 seed York. While Yarmouth lost a pair of games to nemesis Greely, it soon roared to life, rattling off six straight victories to gain an abundance of confidence.
The Clippers went just 2-3 in their final five games, however, and their 11-5 record relegated them to the No. 9 spot in Class B South, not exactly the ideal spot from which to embark on a title run.
Yarmouth felt good about its chances, however, especially with Greely and Cape Elizabeth out of its way until at least the semifinals.
The Clippers started out with an 8-1 win at No. 8 Leavitt in the preliminary round, then knocked off top-ranked Carrabec/Madison, 5-4, in the quarterfinals, as the first hint that this team was accompanied by stardust appeared.
Junior rightfielder Luke Waeldner (who had pitched superbly before reaching the 110-pitch count maximum) made a critical error, dropping a pop fly, in the bottom of the seventh inning and a 5-3 lead soon became 5-4, with Carrabec/Madison placing the potential tying run at third and potential winning run at second with just one out. To no one’s surprise, least of all anyone familiar with baseball and the sport’s affinity for the ball finding the player least interested in being in the limelight, Waeldner caught a line drive, then gunned down the potential tying run at the plate to allow Yarmouth to advance.
The Clippers had a somewhat easier time in the semifinals, at No. 4 Cape Elizabeth, but even that game required some defensive brilliance, as senior John Thoma, best known as the school’s football quarterback, made the biggest play of his baseball career, turning an unassisted double play to help Yarmouth escape a jam and the Clippers went on to a 2-0 victory behind a gem from Harnett.
After all of that, Yarmouth was still two wins from glory, but the Clippers were enjoying every step of the journey.
Last Tuesday, Yarmouth played in its first regional final since 2011, against No. 2 York. The Clippers shot to a 5-1 lead, then held on down the stretch for a 5-3 victory and for the first time ever in Class B and the first time since winning Class C in 1995, Yarmouth earned the right to stand on the state final stage.
The Clippers had the daunting task Saturday of battling an Old Town squad which mercy ruled Freeport in last year’s state final.
With Harnett on the mound, Yarmouth never flinched, even though there were some anxious moments.
The Coyotes nearly got the jump in the top of the first, but Clippers rightfielder Tommy Fallon made a clutch catch on the run to allow Harnett to escape unscathed.
“We thought that was the biggest play of the game and it happened in the first inning,” Halsted said.
The Clippers’ penchant for making something happen on the basepaths put them ahead to stay in the bottom of the first.
Waeldner walked leading off, Chris Romano singled to left and sophomore Jack Romano, who had the big hit in the win over York in the regional final, drove in Waeldner with a hit-and-run single.
“If (Luke’s) not running on the play, I don’t think we score that run, so Luke and Jack came through again.” Halsted said.
Neither team scored in the second and in the top of the third, Yarmouth got out of trouble again.
The leadoff hitter was hit by a Harnett pitch and was sacrificed to second. Jack Romano then showed off his defensive acumen in center, making a sprawling catch. The runner tagged and rounded third and tried to score, but Romano threw to Chris Romano, who fired a perfect throw home to catcher James Waaler, who applied the tag for the third out, allowing the Clippers to remain on top.
Better yet, Harnett only needed to throw three pitches to retire the side, albeit unconventionally.
Harnett had no trouble in the fourth, but in the fifth, he gave up a leadoff single. The next batter sacrificed and when the runner rounded second just a little too far, Thoma fired the ball to Chris Romano, who applied to tag for the out and Harnett went on to get out of the frame with the score still 1-0.
“We were feeling it at that point,” Halsted said.
In the sixth, Old Town again put a runner on, but Waaler made a tough catch on a foul pop behind the plate and Thoma dove to record the third out.
That set the stage for the Clippers to extend its lead in the bottom half on a play that encapsulated Yarmouth baseball and likely gave Halsted a smile that won’t fade until sometime around Christmas.
Waaler led off with a walk and Joe Coyne’s sacrifice bunt was so perfectly placed that he beat it out for a hit. Dom Morrill then bunted the runners up to second and third. That brought up Jackson Caruso, who even though the Coyotes were expecting it, laid down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt up the third base line that scored Waaler.
But the fun was just beginning.
The Old Town third baseman looked to throw to first, but wound up holding the ball. That didn’t stop Coyne, who barreled around third, right past the third baseman, en route to an insurance run that brought the Yarmouth cheering section to its feet and Halsted to his knees with joy, as the lead was now 3-0 and all the momentum was in the Clippers’ dugout.
“I saw the first guy score and I turned around after I made it to first base and saw the second guy score too, so that was an incredible feeling,” Caruso said. “It wasn’t the first time we’ve scored two on a suicide.”
“My first thought was that (Assistant) Coach (Eric) Higgins is going to drown me in the Royal River if I ran Coyne into an easy out, but I just didn’t think (their third baseman) would hear anybody yell to him with all the crowd noise, so, I wound Coyne home and he literally raced right past (the third baseman) who was standing no more than five feet away from him,” Halsted said. “He finally saw him and flipped the ball (home), but it was too late. Pandemonium!”
From there, it was a formality and a coronation.
In the top of the seventh, Chris Romano recorded the first two outs at shortstop, one on a ground ball, another on a line drive. The final batter then chopped a grounder to third, where Caruso made the throw just in time on a play eerily similar to the final out of last fall’s World Series-clinching play by Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs.
Yarmouth 3 Old Town 0.
History, destiny and improbability came together to produce a triumphant and unforgettable championship recipe.
“The win is great and the trophy means a lot, but to see the emotion pour out of some of the finest kids I’ve ever had the honor to coach means everything to me,” Halsted said. “Our six seniors started together as the smallest freshman class we’ve had in years and they never quit.
“Nate Dealaman earned the start at third. Tommy Fallon missed two years of baseball with shoulder injuries and surgeries and came back to play an integral role in winning the state game. Joe Coyne, who hit .043 in Junior Legion two years ago, and who I thought would never start a varsity game in his life, got 16 hits this year, played an at-times spectacular second base and scored the lights-out run from second base. John Thoma was DH’d for for six straight games, but because Aidan Hickey broke his wrist against York, he batted ninth, had a few good at-bats and made three dynamic and high-IQ defensive plays at first base. Chris Romano ripped six hits in the last three games and made all the plays at shortstop and Gibson Harnett threw 21 playoff innings, giving up only one unearned run, in beating Leavitt, Cape and defending state champion Old Town.
“Those six kids will be remembered for years to come and they’ll leave a legacy for hundreds of Yarmouth Little Leaguers to follow.”
Harnett earned the victory by allowing just two hits, throwing an economical 75 pitches in the process.
“We knew it was going to be a grind to get to this place, but we believed in ourselves and we were able to get it done,” Harnett said.
“Our three captains were tremendous,” Halsted said. “Gibson is the single-most competitive player I’ve coached in 17 years of doing this and Chris is just a pure ballplayer in every sense. One of my favorite moments (Saturday) was when I went to talk to the team before they hit the field in the top of the seventh, but before I could get to the dugout from the third base coach’s box, I saw John Thoma already bringing them together. John got them focused, set the tone and took charge and I just got the hell out of the way. When John Thoma leads, kids follow and he led us all season long.”
Yarmouth’s mantra this spring was, ‘Row the Boat’ and the Clippers rowed it to perfection.
“‘Row the Boat’ is a way of life,” Halsted said. “P.J. Fleck has used it with Western Michigan football and now Minnesota. As he explains it, the oars are the players who must all put their oars in the water and pull in unison for us to move toward our goal. The boat is the team concept and we all have to be united, humble, dedicated and unselfish and the compass is the coaches who must lead.
“The ultimate point to ‘Row the Boat’ is that when you row, your back is to your destination and your goal. You can’t see it, but you have to believe in it. You have to believe in your teammates, yourself, the team concepts and your coaches. Then you just have to put your oar in the water, put your head down and never stop rowing.
“It’s baseball, it’s life and it’s now Yarmouth Baseball. We were humbled by being the number 9 seed but we never stopped rowing and believing and we were able to knock off 8, 1, 4, 2 and Old Town. We knew we had a 1-in-10 chance, that if we played Old Town 10 times, we’d only win once. We knew that and we were just going to come out and give everything we had.
“These kids love to play for championships. They weren’t afraid of the big stage. To get a Class B championship for these kids is something that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”
Rest assured that whoever bore witness to Yarmouth’s magical march won’t soon forget it either.
Sun Journal staff writer Wil Kramlich contributed to this story.
Yarmouth senior captain and starting pitcher Gibson Harnett was sensational on the mound Saturday, allowing just two hits in the victory.
Yarmouth junior third baseman Nate Dealaman goes to his knees to field a ground ball.
Yarmouth senior captain John Thoma and his teammates celebrate the Clippers’ first inning run.
Yarmouth junior catcher James Waaler tags out an Old Town runner at the plate for the final out in the top of the third inning.
Yarmouth senior shortstop Chris Romano exults after a pickoff play in the top of the fifth inning.
Yarmouth sophomore centerfielder Jack Romano catches a fly ball.
Yarmouth junior James Waaler scores on Jackson Caruso’s sixth inning squeeze bunt, but the best is yet to come…
As seconds later, Joe Coyne races home as well, capping the breathtaking two-run squeeze play.
Yarmouth coach Marc Halsted shows sheer exhilaration after the two runs score.
Junior James Waaler, left, and senior Joe Coyne celebrate with senior Tommy Fallon and junior Jack True after scoring on the bunt.
Three simple words that the Clippers lived by, all the way to the pinnacle.
Yarmouth senior Joe Coyne (4) is embraced by senior captain Chris Romano following the victory.
Yarmouth senior captains Gibson Harnett, left, Chris Romano and John Thoma receive the championship trophy.
The Clippers show off the trophy to their adoring fans.
Your newly minted Class B baseball state champion Yarmouth Clippers, oars and all.