The Falcons assembled a phenomenal team effort behind starting pitcher Josh Burke at Greely on Saturday, June 11, upsetting the reigning state champions 1-0 to advance to the Southern Maine Regional Final Wednesday, June 15.

“It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable,” said Freeport head coach Bill Ridge. “We had some high expectations for ourselves this year, coming into it. But I can’t honestly say that anybody was expecting this.”

Burke articulated a certain confidence the team felt, but that anyone outside the dugout might not have shared: “I guess we were underestimated as the No. 7 seed, but right now we’re showing everybody we deserve to be (in the Regional Final), we have what it takes … We believe we deserve to be there.”

Burke got the call to pitch in part because Falcons ace Jack Davenport couldn’t take the mound, having thrown for his team only days prior – in Freeport’s first major upset of the week, a 7-2 walloping on the road at No. 2 York.

But Burke also earned the right to face off with the Rangers, as Ridge detailed. “In [Josh’s] last four starts, he beat Greely in the regular season,” Ridge said. “Then we trotted him out against York, and he beat York, in the regular season; the next one was the first playoff win in 31 years for Freeport; and now, a (Southern) Maine semifinal. He’s been light’s out; all the credit to him.”

Freeport hasn’t won a postseason contest since 1985, when, in fact, Davenport’s father was a Falcon. Set against that history, Burke’s youth – he’s only a sophomore – stands out all the more starkly.

Battling the No. 3 seed is a good deal of pressure for a young player to bear up under, so it’s fair to say he’s earned his share of the euphoria. “It feels amazing, honestly,” Burke said. “Knocking down the two-time, defending champion? Going to the regional finals?”

Against a team as tough as the Rangers, Burke needed his weapons sharp, and they were – sharp enough, anyway. “I was getting the outside a little bit, in the beginning, and my curveball was working pretty good,” he said. 

But Burke also demurred from the spotlight, and praised his teammates. “I don’t get many Ks, this season; it’s all in the field, really,” he said. “During the first inning, they got a lead-off hit, and then, boom, next at-bat we’ve got Jack Davenport getting a double-play … And I’ve got Colby (Wagner, catcher) calling great pitching calls.”

The game’s lone run came when Max Doughty took a pitch in the shoulder and meandered to first. Doughty stole second, then rounded all the way to home when Davenport drove a single into right field.

“We got up there with a guy on second base,” said Ridge, “and Davenport – who, in my opinion, is the best player in our conference, if not the state – that’s a situation we know he’s going to deliver, and he did. He did exactly what everybody here thought he would do.”

Burke didn’t hold the reins for all seven innings, it’s worth noting; instead, he checked out after the fifth. “Going towards my four and five innings, my arm was getting tired,” he said. “I was getting a little wild, so I decided I couldn’t pitch six or seven.”

After Burke struck out Greely’s Austin Nowinski in the bottom of the fifth, he walked Dylan Fried. Two batters later, he also walked Justin Leeman; clearly, he was losing the zone a little.

It was both Burke’s own decision, and Ridge’s, that he should hand off the ball. “I told him I couldn’t do it anymore,” Burke said, “and he was like, ‘Yeah, that was your last inning.’”

Austin Langley stepped in for Burke in the sixth, and Josh Spaulding relieved Langley for the seventh. Both boys filled Burke’s cleats admirably. Langley, for instance, lured Cal Soule into a 4-3 ground-out, then Ryan Twitchell into a fly-out to left.

Twitchell’s ball might’ve dropped – it had the location to – had it not been for Freeport outfielder Caiden Shea, who proved himself invaluable more than once that afternoon. Shea sped forward to get underneath the shot, holding on for the out. Earlier, he’d made a spectacular catch running backward and reaching even  farther behind himself. Either hit, had it fallen, had the potential to propel the Rangers in balancing the score.

So the Falcons, now 13-6, are on a charmed run, it would seem, and they’re feeling good about it.

“We feel confident, obviously,” said Ridge. “Our pitchers are throwing strikes, we’re playing great defense behind them. And today we didn’t hit a ton, but we’ve been hitting for the most part. But we feel good.”

Freeport will face off with Cape Elizabeth in the regional final. The Capers offed Maranacook in B South’s other semifinal on Saturday.

“We’ve got Jack coming back,” Ridge said, looking forward to seeing Davenport work his own brand of magic once again. “Jack’s ready for it. He wants it, it’s his. We feel confident going into the game.”

Burke echoed his coach: “I feel really great, going forward in this Finals. We’ve got Jack pitching, who is one of the best pitchers in the state, in my opinion. I think he can go lights-out.”

The Falcons celebrate after their 1-0 upset at Greely on Saturday.

Ben Humphrey hurls a 5-3 ball in Freeport’s matchup at Greely on Saturday.

Freeporter Josh Spaulding unwinds into a 1-3 throw versus Greely on Saturday.

Jack Davenport, Falcons shortstop, whips off a throw toward first.

Freeport left-fielder Caiden Shea turned multiple impressive plays to deny the Greely attack on Saturday.

Freeporter second-basemen Max Doughty fires off a 4-3 throw.

Falcons starting pitcher Josh Burke fires a 1-3 ball after a Greely bunt.

Freeport starter on the mound Josh Burke unwinds into a pitch at Greely on Saturday afternoon.

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