BANGOR — When it was over and Greely had squelched the last Caribou hope with the game’s only double play, the Rangers rushed to the most appropriate spot on the baseball diamond for their celebratory dog pile.
The pitcher’s mound.
Left-hander Connor Russell emerged with a filthy cap and a wide smile after tossing his team’s fifth consecutive shutout, a 1-0 victory in the Class B state championship game Saturday afternoon at Mansfield Stadium.
“I was in the playoff run for the past two years, and (the losses) have been heart-breaking,” said Russell, who scattered five hits and never faced more than four batters in an inning. “We had one goal this year, and we were able to get it.”
The state title is the fifth for Greely (17-3), the first since 2009, and the third for Coach Derek Soule.
Caribou (14-7), the seventh seed in Eastern Maine, was making its first appearance in the championship game.
Caribou senior Sean Sadler held the Rangers to one hit through six scoreless innings. Pinch-hitter Will Bryant led off the seventh with a bloop single to shallow right field and took second on a sacrifice bunt by Miles Shields.
After Pat O’Shea beat out a slow bouncer to third base, junior catcher Reid Howland came up with runners on the corners. He worked the count full, fouled off a pitch, then squirted a grounder between the first and second basemen.
“I was just trying to get one in the air, maybe get a sac fly,” Howland said.
“The pitcher laid it outside half, low. We focused on that all week in practice. He just laid it out there and I took it where it was pitched and it fell in the hole.”
Caribou catcher Cody Herbert led off the bottom of the seventh with a sharp single to left, but a fielder’s choice and a game-ending double play sealed the victory for Greely, which finished its season with 40 consecutive shutout innings.
“That wasn’t even in our mind,” said Howland of the scoreless streak. “Our goal was just to win the game.”
In the bottom of the first, Caribou’s Dustin Bouchard reached on an error and tried to take third on Matt Milliard’s one-out single to right.
“I had a feeling he was going, as soon as they hit the ball,” said Greely right fielder Bailey Train, who uncorked a one-hop strike to third base to easily throw out Bouchard. “I didn’t know it was going to be that big of a deal at the time, but one run was all we needed.”
“That was a huge momentum shift,” said Russell, who retired the next six batters and finished with five strikeouts and one walk. “That guy’s got the strongest arm in the state.”