Greely junior Jake MacDonald walks off the field dejectedly as Freeport erupts in celebration following the final out of the Falcons’ 4-2 victory in Saturday’s Class B South semifinal.

John Ewing / Portland Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Class B South semifinal

Freeport 4 Greely 2

F- 210 001 0- 4 7 2
G-000 200 0- 2 4 1

Top 1st
Panciocco singled to center, H. Cockburn and T. Holt scored.

Top 2nd
L. Holt reached on squeeze bunt, Shea scored.

Bottom 4th
Nolin homered to left, Piesik and Nolin scored.

Top 6th
T. Holt scored on error.

Multiple hits:
F- T. Holt, Panciocco, Shea
G-Nolin

Runs:
F- T. Holt 2, H. Cockburn, Shea
G- Nolin, Piesik

RBI:
F- Panciocco 2, L. Holt
G- Nolin 2

Double:
F- Shea

Home run:
G- Nolin

Stolen bases:
F- T. Holt 2, Shea
G- Nolin, Wyman

Left on base:
F- 3
G- 5

S. Wagner, H. Cockburn (7) and Shea; Neleski and Smith.

F:
S. Wagner (W, 5-0) 6.1 IP 4 H 2 R 2 ER 2 BB 7 K 
B. Cockburn (Save, 4) 0.2 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 1 K

G:
Neleski (L, 5-1) 7 IP 7 H 4 R 3 ER 1 BB 6 K 

Time: 1:21

CUMBERLAND—It takes grit, heart and a little good fortune to prevail in the playoffs and Freeport’s baseball team benefited from each of those ingredients Saturday afternoon at Twin Brook Recreation Center.

The third-ranked Falcons visited a second-seeded Greely squad which beat them in the regular season and seemingly always finds itself playing deep into the postseason, but when the critical plays had to be made, Freeport welcomed the opportunity and got the job done and as a result, advanced to the regional final for the just the second time in program history.

The Falcons wasted no time getting to Rangers’ senior ace Will Neleski, as with two-on and two-out in the top of the first, after a swinging bunt from senior first baseman Toby Holt set the table, sophomore shortstop Anthony Panciocco hit a two-run single.

Freeport tacked on a third run in the top of the second, as senior catcher Eriksen Shea doubled, moved to third, then scored on a squeeze bunt from junior third baseman Liam Holt.

Falcons senior starter Shea Wagner went right at Greely’s potent bats and held the Rangers scoreless for three innings, but in the bottom of the fourth, Greely sophomore rightfielder Brady Nolin, who earlier came up with two game-altering plays in the field, crushed a Wagner fastball over the fence in leftfield for a two-run home run which pulled the Rangers back within a single run, 3-2.

Neleski settled down and cruised along until the sixth, when Freeport got a huge, unearned insurance run.

Greely then loaded the bases with no one out in the bottom of the seventh, but none of those Rangers would advance any further, as Wagner retired one final batter before giving way to freshman closer Blaine Cockburn, who came on and demonstrated nerves of steel, retiring the final two hitters to preserve the 4-2 victory.

The Falcons improved to 15-3, ended Greely’s season at 13-5 and advanced to battle top-ranked York (16-2) in the Class B South Final Tuesday at 3 p.m., at St. Joseph’s College in Standish.

“I was nervous, but this team loves each other and I knew we’d get it done,” said Freeport first-year coach Kyle Goodrich. “Greely’s been a powerhouse since I was in school, but you’ve just got to believe.” 

An 80-minute thrill ride

Freeport and Greely have been among the best teams in the region all season and it came as no surprise to see them do battle Saturday.

The Falcons, under Goodrich, a former player and assistant coach with the program, opened by defeating visiting Lake Region (11-5), visiting Wells (5-1) and host Traip Academy (14-7). After being blanked by visiting Greely (4-0), Freeport lost at home to York, 8-4. The Falcons then turned things around by beating visiting Cape Elizabeth twice (10-1 and 6-2), host Old Orchard Beach (9-1), visiting Lincoln Academy (10-0, in five-innings) and host Poland (6-1). After a 7-0 setback at Yarmouth, Freeport closed with victories at Morse (3-2), at home over Poland (5-2), at Fryeburg Academy (4-0), at Gray-New Gloucester (14-3, in five-innings) and at home over Yarmouth (2-1) to finish 13-3, the program’s best mark in at least 50 years. 

Tuesday, the Falcons handled defending regional champion Wells, the No. 6 seed, 10-3, in the quarterfinals to advance.

Greely opened by beating “visiting” Fryeburg Academy, 9-2, in a game played in Old Orchard Beach, then blanked host Cape Elizabeth, 8-0, and won at Yarmouth, 7-1, before falling at York, 11-0, in five-innings. Wins at Freeport (4-0) and at home over Poland (10-0, in six-innings) ensued. After a hard-fought 6-4, eight-inning home loss to eventual Class A North top seed Oxford Hills, the Rangers defeated visiting Yarmouth (6-5), host Sacopee Valley (6-1), visiting Gray-New Gloucester (6-1) and host Lincoln Academy (11-0, in five-innings). After a 1-0 setback at Lake Region, Greely’s first to the Lakers in 31 years, it blanked visiting Cape Elizabeth (6-0) and Wells (2-0). The Rangers then lost to Lake Region again, this time at home, 2-1, before closing with a 2-1 win at Wells to lock up the No. 2 seed in the region.

Tuesday, Greely blanked No. 7 Morse, 4-0, in the quarterfinals.

In the regular season encounter May 1, Neleski spun a three-hit shutout and at the plate, he doubled, drove in a run and scored another.

Saturday marked the teams’ third all-time playoff meeting.

In the 2004 Western B preliminary round, Greely eked out a 1-0 victory. Freeport returned the favor by the same score in the 2016 Class B South semifinals en route to an improbable run to the state final.

This time around, on a beautiful (73 degrees at first pitch) afternoon, in front of a large and raucous crowd, another down-to-the-wire thriller ensued.

The Falcons immediately let everyone know they weren’t going to sit back and be intimidated by Neleski, getting to him for two runs in the top of the first.

Shea Wagner led off and ripped an 0-2 pitch to the outfield, but it was directly at Rangers senior centerfielder Evan Wyman for an out. Junior second baseman Heath Cockburn then worked the count full and drew a walk and Toby Holt followed with a squibber down the third base line that Greely third baseman Jacob Whiting got to and threw to first, but it was too late and on the play, Cockburn raced all the way to third.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times, (winning) can be catching a break or not,” lamented longtime Greely coach Derek Soule. “The swinging bunt that led to two runs was a big difference in the game. He couldn’t have rolled it down the line any better. We had no play.” 

Holt then stole second, but Neleski appeared poised to escape the inning when he blew strike three past junior centerfielder Gabe Wagner.

But Panciocco, who took the loss in the teams’ regular season meeting, had other ideas, smacking the first pitch he saw past Neleski and up the middle into centerfield to score Cockburn and Holt and while Panciocco was thrown out by Greely senior catcher Aiden Smith trying to go to second to end the frame, Freeport had an all-important 2-0 lead.

“We know (Neleski) is extremely accurate, so if we got a first pitch strike, we tried to drive it and it worked out well,” said Panciocco. “That was huge to get the lead. It energized our bench and our crowd and gave us momentum for the rest of the game.”

“It was big to get that lead,” said Goodrich. “Every time you see a Freeport box score, you see Anthony’s name. We have great hitters, but we always want him up there. He’s got the moxie to come through.”

Shea Wagner made quick work of the Rangers in the bottom of the first, retiring MacDonald on a grounder to short, which resulted in a bang-bang play at first, getting junior shortstop Nick Butler to bounce out to second and Neleski to ground out to third.

The Falcons then added a third run in the top of the second, thanks to some timely small-ball.

Shea got things started by driving a high 1-2 pitch to deep right-center, over the head of Nolin for a double.

“I hit one last game like that. too,” Shea said. “This one off the bat I knew was deep. I knew I had to hustle it out. I wanted to get the extra base.”

Freshman designated hitter Kempton Von Glinsky-Gregiore followed with a ground out to first which moved Shea to third, then Liam Holt bunted the first pitch he saw past Neleski to easily score Shea and on the play, Holt was safe at first.

“That bunt was huge,” Shea said. “We’ve practiced it all year and for Liam to execute it in this environment was awesome.”

“We talked about setting a tone and coming out early,” Goodrich said. “We were aggressive at the plate. We hit-and-ran and squeezed. We knew we had to get to Neleski early.”

Neleski struck out Blaine Cockburn, who started the game in rightfield, but a wild pitch moved Holt to second, which almost led to another run, as Shea Wagner ripped a sinking line drive to right, but Nolin raced in, stabbed the ball and sprawled to the ground to end the inning with Freeport ahead, 3-0.

The Rangers threatened in the bottom half, but Shea Wagner escaped the jam.

Nolin led off with a bloop single to left-center and moved up on a slow ground out to second by Whiting. With senior designated hitter Connor Sullivan at the plate, Nolin stole third on a pitch in the dirt, but Shea Wagner pulled the string and caught Sullivan looking at strike three, before retiring senior first baseman Joe Cimino on a slow roller to first with the pitcher covering.

Neleski began to settle in, with some help from his defense, in the top of the third.

Heath Cockburn led off with what appeared to be a base hit to right, but Nolin charged the ball and gunned it to first, where Cimino caught the ball for the out a split second before a diving Cockburn could touch the bag for a rarely-seen 9-3 putout. Toby Holt then crushed a pitch to deep left, but MacDonald ran it down for the second out and Gabe Wagner’s long drive to right was corralled by Nolin to retire the side.

“We had some bad luck too and hit some line drives right at people,” Goodrich said.

Shea Wagner made quick work of Greely in the bottom half, getting senior second baseman Will Lyden to fly out to right before striking out Wyman and MacDonald.

In the top of the fourth, Neleski set Freeport down in order again, getting Panciocco to ground out to third, Shea to line out to left and Von Glinsky-Gregiore to fly out deep to center.

The Rangers then broke through in the bottom half.

After Butler grounded out to third and was out on a close play at first, Neleski had a solid base hit to center and sophomore Jonathon Piesik came on to run for the pitcher at first. He wasn’t there long, as Nolin got a hold of a Shea Wagner fastball and crushed it to deep left. Sophomore leftfielder Nick Signorelli went back to the fence, climbed it and lunged for the ball, but it was over his glove and landed for a two-run home run, which got Greely’s players and fans energized and cut the deficit to 3-2.

“Brady was awesome today,” Soule said. “The diving play and throwing a guy out at first, I thought he changed the momentum of the game, and when we needed someone to step up (at the plate), he did it.”

Shea Wagner settled down and fanned Whiting and got Sullivan to pop out to second to retire the side.

“I go out and pitch against the hardest teams, in my opinion,” Wagner said. “That’s kind of my job. The best hitters will get hits like that. I’ve given up some home runs in my career. There’s nothing you can do about it. It was a big hit, but we still had the lead. If I let that get to me, I would have been done. We’d used up some pitchers last game and we needed to stay on schedule. I had to keep going.”

“All year, Shea has been huge, especially the last three weeks,” Goodrich said. “He pitched lights-out today. He did what we needed him to do. He knows deep down that the other guys and the fans had his back.”

Neleski remained dominant in the fifth, striking out both Liam Holt and Blaine Cockburn and getting Shea Wagner to line out to right.

Greely then nearly pulled even in the bottom half.

Shea Wagner blew strike three past Cimino leading off and freshman pinch-hitter Brooks Williams flew out to center, but Wyman worked a two-out walk, stole second and raced to third when Shea’s throw got away for an error. MacDonald then drove a pitch deep to center, but Gabe Wagner ran it down to preserve the lead.

And in the top of the sixth, Freeport added to it, thanks to some generosity from the hosts.

Neleski began the frame by getting Heath Cockburn to line out to left, but on a 3-1 pitch, Toby Holt reached on an infield single past the pitcher and he promptly stole second base. Neleski caught Gabe Wagner looking strike three, but again, Panciocco lined a first pitch single to left-center to put runners at the corners. 

Disaster then struck for the Rangers, as Neleski threw over to first, hoping to pick off Panciocco, but his throw was low and while Cimino got to the ball, Holt broke for home. Cimino had a chance to throw the runner out, but the throw was wild and Holt scored an all-important insurance run with Panciocco taking second.

Shea followed with a single through the hole between short and third, but Panciocco had to hold at third and Neleski ended the frame by getting senior pinch-hitter Ben Morang to pop out to second.

Shea Wagner retired the meat of the Greely order in the bottom of the sixth, striking out Butler, getting Neleski to foul out to Liam Holt at third, then blowing strike three past Nolin.

Neleski ensured that the Rangers would only face a two-run deficit in their final at-bat, as he got Liam Holt to ground out to short, senior pinch-hitter Josh Burke to ground out to short and Shea Wagner to chase strike three.

Things then got very, very interesting and tense in the fateful bottom of the seventh.

Whiting led off and reached when Panciocco couldn’t handle his ground ball to short. Junior Harry McFarland came on to run and he’d move up to second when freshman pinch-hitter Ryan Kolben drew a walk on a full count pitch. Junior Justin Fairbanks ran for Kolben and both runners would move up 90 feet when when freshman pinch-hitter Max Cloutier’s bloop to shallow left glanced off Panciocco’s glove for a single.

But just when it appeared Greely was poised to steal the game away, Shea Wagner and Blaine Cockburn refused to let it happen.

The last batter Wagner faced was Lyden, whom he induced to pop up to Panciocco in shallow left for the first out.

Goodrich then came out and brought in Cockburn, who was ready for the moment.

“I didn’t really feel any nerves,” said the freshman. “I do at the plate and in rightfield, but on the mound, my mindset changes.”

“I’ve come out for Blaine a couple times this year and while I don’t like coming out of games, I trust him,” Shea Wagner said. “I know he’s talented and he’ll get the job done.” 

Wyman got ahead in the count, 3-1, then took a strike before lifting a foul ball wide of first which Toby Holt caught for the all-important second out.

That brought up MacDonald as the Rangers’ last hope and Cockburn got ahead in the count 0-2, just missed outside for a ball, then at 5:20 p.m., he threw the final pitch of the game, one which MacDonald swung and missed and the Falcons rushed the mound to celebrate their dramatic 4-2 victory.

“I just had to pound the zone over and over again like I’ve done many times before in my life and I did it,” Blaine Cockburn said. “(The last pitch) was like a movie. Awesome.”

“I think our energy was the biggest factor today,” Panciocco said.

“I probably lost a couple years off my life,” Goodrich added. “We’ve talked all year that it’s we, not me. Shea, a senior, gave the ball to Blaine, a freshman, in that moment. We live and die as a team and today we lived. It was awesome.”

The Shea Wagner/Blaine Cockburn combination held potent Greely to four hits.

Wagner improved to 5-0 on the year by surrendering two earned runs on four hits in 6.1 innings. He walked a pair and struck out seven.

“I felt good with my command on my fastball and curveball,” Wagner said. “Eriksen called spots and I hit them. I learned a new slider this year and it’s come in handy. I got some swings and misses on that. I was focused and just trying to keep my head.” 

“I think Shea’s the hero because he controlled the game,” Blaine Cockburn said.

Cockburn retired the two batters he faced with the season on the line to earn his fourth save.

“Going from Shea to Blaine, it’s completely different pitchers,” said Shea, the catcher. “Blaine has a ridiculous curveball and I was scared of a passed ball, but he hit spots and I didn’t have to do too much blocking.

“And what can I say about Shea? He just goes out and does his job. Senior leadership. He knows what he’s doing. I’m just there to catch his pitches.”

“Blaine was confident,” Goodrich said. “He was ready to go. If you knew this kid, you wouldn’t expect anything different. Blaine is just awesome.”

Offensively, Freeport got two hits apiece from Toby Holt, Panciocco and Shea.

Toby Holt scored twice, while Heath Cockburn and Shea each touched home once.

Panciocco had two RBI and Liam Holt one.

Toby Holt had two steals and Shea one.

The Falcons only stranded three base runners.

Not quite enough

Greely got two hits, two RBI and a run scored from Nolin.

Piesik also scored a run.

Nolin and Wyman had stolen bases.

The Rangers left five runners on base.

Neleski suffered his first loss of the season (against five wins), giving up four runs (three earned) on seven hits in a complete game effort. Neleski walked one and fanned six.

“Will didn’t have his good fastball today,” Soule said. “It’s just one of those things. He battled through it and gave us a chance to win.”

Ultimately, Greely couldn’t quite erase its early deficit and missed a golden opportunity in the bottom of the seventh.

“We made it exciting,” Soule said. “I’m proud of how our guys battled back and made a contest of it. In a playoff game when things don’t go your way, with all the pressure you’re facing, your season possibly ending, you see a lot of teams crumble. I’m really proud of how we regrouped. We kept them at bay, but that insurance run pretty big. We made it interesting with the bases loaded in the seventh. We just couldn’t square one up. That’s baseball.

“It was a really challenging year mentally with the weather and the schedule changes and limited (outdoor) practice. I thought we peaked at the right time, but today was tough.”

The 2020 Rangers will have a vastly different look, as seven starters graduate and another, MacDonald, is expected to leave to play hockey at a prep school.

Of course, anyone who doesn’t expect Greely to be one of the last teams standing again in 2020 is going to be disappointed.

“We have some opportunities for young guys to fill holes,” Soule said. “Nick Butler and Brady Nolin are the two regulars returning. We’ll build around them.”

Off to St. Joe’s

Freeport lost at home to York, 8-4, back on May 4.

The Falcons won the only prior playoff meeting, 7-2, in the 2016 Class B South quarterfinals.

The Wildcats can pound the ball and throw it, so they’ll be a formidable foe, but Freeport is looking forward to the challenge.

“We had three teams on our list, Yarmouth, Greely and York,” Shea said. “We knocked off Yarmouth last game of the season, we got Greely and now York is next. It’s nice to knock off good teams.”

“I’m excited,” Shea Wagner said. “I was there (when we beat Cape Elizabeth in the regional final) freshman year, but I didn’t play. We just have to hit. When we lose, we haven’t hit, but in the games we’ve won, we’ve done well.” 

“We’ll be confident,” Goodrich added. “We won’t do anything different. We’ll play for each other. The first game was a game for a little bit, then they pulled away, but we’re hot now. We’re playing well.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Freeport senior Shea Wagner delivers a pitch. Wagner earned the victory with 6.1 strong innings.

Freeport senior first baseman Toby Holt takes a throw as Greely junior pinch-runner Harry McFarland dives back into the bag.

Freeport freshman Blaine Cockburn, who earned the save, goes into his delivery.