Greely celebrates junior Cooper Neleski’s walk-off walk in game one of Saturday’s doubleheader against Freeport. The Rangers would take both games, 3-2 and 3-0. Hoffer photos.

FREEPORT—On a day that felt more like early April than late May, it was a pitcher’s delight when Greely and Freeport met in a baseball doubleheader Saturday afternoon.

And the Rangers’ pitching staff is pretty tough to beat.

Which the Falcons discovered, much to their chagrin.

Thanks to a pair of home runs, a walk at a most ideal time and near perfection on the mound, Greely earned two critical late-season victories as it continues to round into championship form.

In the opener, the Rangers, as the home team, took a quick 2-0 lead, as senior starter Brady Nolin helped himself with a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning.

But he couldn’t hold it, as in the top of the fifth, Freeport drew even on a two-run single from junior second baseman Keigan Shea.

In the sixth, the Falcons put their first two runners on, but senior left-handed flame-thrower Zach Johnston came on to extinguish the threat.

Then, in the bottom of the seventh, three walks loaded the bases and with two outs, senior designated hitter Cooper Neleski drew a base on balls to give Greely a 3-2 victory.

Johnston pitched six more shutout innings in the second game and he got help from his catcher, junior Ryan Kolben, who hit a two-run home run, and the Rangers earned the sweep by virtue of a 3-0 triumph.

Greely made three in a row this week over Freeport, six consecutive victories overall and improved to 12-3, dropping the Falcons, who have now dropped six straight, to 9-6.

“They were good, competitive games, which is great for us right before the playoffs,” said longtime Rangers coach Derek Soule. “They’re good wins for Heal Points.”

Walk-off wildness

BOX SCORE (Game One)

Greely 3 Freeport 2 

F- 000 200 0- 2 2 2
G- 200 000 1- 3 4 0
* Two outs when winning run scored

Bottom 1st
Nolin homered to left, Cloutier and Nolin scored.

Top 5th
Shea singled to center, Cronin and Benedict scored.

Bottom 7th
Neleski walked, Cloutier scored.

Runs:
F- Benedict, Cronin
G- Cloutier 2, Nolin 1

RBI:
F- Shea 2
G- Nolin 2, Neleski

Home run:
G- Nolin

Stolen bases:
F- Benedict, von Glinsky-Gregoire

Left on base:
F- 5
G- 11

Abbott, Aguiar (5), Wing (7) and von Glinsky-Gregoire; Nolin, Johnston (6) and Kolben.

G:
* Nolin 5+ IP 2 H 2 R 2 ER 3 BB 8 K 2 WP
Johnston (W) 2 IP 0 H 0 R 1 BB 5 K
* Nolin pitched to two batters in the sixth.

F:
Abbott 4.2 IP 4 H 2 R 2 ER 2 BB 3 K 1 HBP
Aguiar (L) 1.2 IP 0 H 1 R 1 ER 2 BB 1 K
Wing 0.1 IP 0 H 0 R 3 BB 0 K 1 WP

Time: 1:53

Freeport is the reigning Class B South champion and Greely is always in the mix for the top spot and each squad has enjoyed its moments this spring, although the Falcons and Rangers were heading in opposite directions entering play Saturday.

Freeport sizzled out of the gate, twice dominating Gray-New Gloucester, 11-1 (in six-innings) at home and 12-1 (in six-innings) in Gray. After a narrow 2-1 victory at Mt. Ararat, the Falcons rallied for a 6-5 win at Cape Elizabeth, then swept the visiting Capers in a doubleheader, 2-1 and 2-1. After a 5-1 victory at Brunswick, Freeport handled visiting Morse (12-6) and Lake Region (7-2), but the Falcons’ bats then went cold and they suffered three straight losses to Yarmouth, 6-0 at home and 5-2 and 3-2 in a doubleheader at the Clippers. Tuesday, Freeport lost at home to Greely in five-innings, 12-0.

Greely started with a 9-4 loss at Oxford Hills, then blanked visiting Fryeburg Academy (1-0, on a no-hitter by Nolin) and visiting Yarmouth (2-0) before splitting a doubleheader at the Clippers, dropping the opener, 12-8, and taking the nightcap, 13-3. The Rangers then got hot, blanking visiting Brunswick (3-0), winning at Mt. Ararat (11-1, in five-innings) and shutting out visiting Morse (7-0). After a 6-0 home loss to Cape Elizabeth, Greely swept a doubleheader at the Capers, 8-0 and 13-0 (in five-innings), then blanked host Freeport, 12-0 (in five-innings) Tuesday before defeating host Gray-New Gloucester (12-1) Thursday.

Saturday’s games were originally scheduled for Greely’s home field at Twin Brook Recreation Center, but overnight rain and the better condition of Freeport’s field moved the games there.

The Rangers were the home team in the opener under cloudy skies and a 51-degree temperature, and they started Nolin, who made quite an impression early.

In the top of the first, Nolin caught Falcons senior centerfielder Blaine Cockburn looking at strike three, got third baseman Julian Gideon to ground back to the mound, then fanned senior shortstop Anthony Panciocco.

In the bottom half, Freeport junior starter Nathan Abbott began inauspiciously by hitting Greely junior shortstop Max Cloutier with a pitch, then serving up a pitch that Nolin hit over the leftfield fence for a quick 2-0 lead.

After getting Kolben to fly out to center, Abbott got junior leftfielder Brooks Williams to ground to third, but he reached on an error. Neleski then singled to center and Williams went to third. Neleski then moved up to second on defensive indifference and freshman third baseman Mark Axelsen drew a walk to load the bases. Abbott was able to avoid further damage, however, striking out Johnston, the rightfielder, before getting senior first baseman Dawson Jowett to ground out to third to keep the score 2-0.

Nolin then worked out of trouble in a top of the second inning, which didn’t see a single ball hit into the field of play.

Nolin walked junior catcher Kempton von Glinsky-Gregoire leading off, then caught Abbott staring at strike three. After von Glinsky-Gregoire stole second, Nolin struck out rightfielder Gus Wing looking as well, but on a 3-2 pitch, designated hitter Colin Cronin drew a walk. Senior leftfielder Caden Benedict then had a chance to get Freeport back in it, but he struck out swinging.

Abbott settled down in the bottom of the second, getting junior second baseman Liam Sheff to ground out to third and after Cloutier singled to left, Abbott got Nolin to ground into a third-to-second force out and Kolben to fly out deep to left.

Nolin remained dominant in the top of the third, fanning Shea, getting Cockburn to ground out to shortstop on a bang-bang play and inducing Gideon to bounce out to second.

Abbott made quick work of the Rangers in the bottom half, getting Williams to ground out to short, Neleski to fly out to center and Axelsen to bounce out to third, where Gideon made a nice stab before throwing across the diamond to retire the side.

Freeport’s bats remained cold in the top of the fourth, as Nolin got Panciocco to ground out to third, von Glinsky-Gregoire to line out to center and Abbott to watch strike three.

In the bottom half, Abbott caught Johnston looking at strike three and after Jowett reached on an infield single to the hole, Abbott caught Sheff looking at strike three as junior courtesy runner Owen Cook was trying to steal second and von Glinsky-Gregoire threw him out to complete the inning-ending double play.

Any hopes Nolin had of throwing another no-hitter were dashed in the top of the fifth, as Wing beat out an infield single to the hole between short and third. He was erased when Cronin bounced back to the mound and Nolin threw to second for the force out. Cronin was able to move up second, then third, when a pair of pitches got away and Benedict drew a walk and promptly stole second to put two runners in scoring position. That set the stage for Shea, who, with the infield in, managed to ground a single through into centerfield and both runners raced home to tie the game as Shea went to second on the throw home, then was granted third base on defensive interference.

Freeport’s Caden Benedict comes home with the tying run on Keigan Shea’s fifth inning single.

But the Falcons couldn’t take the lead, as with Cockburn up, Kolben picked Shea off third and Cockburn watched strike three to keep the game tied, 2-2.

In the bottom half, Cloutier reached on an error by Gideon at third, but on the first pitch, Nolin popped out to first and on the play, the baserunner was ruled to have interfered with the play and was called out as well. Kolben walked on a 3-2 pitch and that was it for Abbott, who was replaced by sophomore Zane Aguiar, who walked Williams, but escaped the inning when a long blast to left off the bat of Neleski settled in the glove of a leaping Benedict, just short of the fence.

Freeport looked to go on top in the top of the sixth, as Gideon earned a four-pitch walk before Panciocco drew a walk as well.

Soule then came out and replaced Nolin with Johnston, who had little time to warm up.

It didn’t matter, as Johnston blew strike three past von Glinsky-Gregoire, caught Aguiar looking at strike three, then did the same to Wing.

“I knew we were in a jam and I knew I just needed to come in and do my job,” said Johnston. “I just wanted to throw strikes and it worked out well.”

“Zach came in and threw really well,” Soule said. “He normally has more time to get warm. My biggest concern was he only threw a little bit on flat ground before coming in, but it didn’t seem to affect him.”

In a key spot in the sixth inning, Greely junior Zach Johnston comes in in relief and strikes out Freeport junior catcher Kempton von Glinsky-Gregoire.

In the bottom half, Aguiar got Axelsen to line out to center, where Cockburn made a nice catch on the run, senior pinch-hitter Grant Allard to ground out to short on the first pitch and Jowett to watch strike three.

Johnston then started the seventh by fanning both Cronin and Benedict, but Shea drew a two-out walk. It didn’t matter, as Cockburn bounced out to second and the contest would go to the fateful bottom of the seventh, where Greely ended it.

Sheff led off by popping out to the pitcher, but Cloutier drew a walk and that was it for Aguiar, who was replaced by Wing.

Wing fell behind Nolin 3-0, then battled back full before walking him. A wild pitch then moved the runners up and Kolben was walked intentionally. When Wing got Williams to pop up to short, he was on the brink of escaping and forcing extra innings, but Neleski wouldn’t let that happen.

Neleski took two close outside pitches to get the count in his favor, 3-1, then Wing missed just outside again and the bases loaded walk scored Cloutier to win it for the Rangers, 3-2, setting off a celebration.

“I was looking for a fastball anywhere toward the inside,” Neleski said. Even at 3-1, I was looking fastball-in.”

“We were excited to win,” Johnston said. “It was everything you want in a high school game.”

“Cooper’s been swinging the bat really well the past two weeks and I have as much confidence in him in that situation as anybody,” Soule added. “We had our chances early I thought to blow that open. We continued to hit the ball hard the next few innings, then we struggled to make solid contact. You let a good team hang around, those things always seem to come back and get you when you don’t take advantage of opportunities. That’s baseball.”

Greely’s offense only managed four hits, but it was enough. Cloutier scored twice and Nolin also touched home plate. Nolin had two runs batted in and Neleski had the other.

The Rangers could have broken it open sooner, but they stranded 11 runners.

Nolin didn’t get a decision, despite 5-plus strong innings of work. He allowed two runs on two hits, walking three and striking out eight.

Johnson won the game in relief, not allowing a run or a hit in his two innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

“It’s been great this year,” Johnston said. “Getting back out here on the mound feels so good. (In game two) I just want to do the same thing, throw strikes, let the defense work and hope the offense puts some runs up.”

“Zach brought gas,” Neleski said. “I’m glad I don’t have to hit against him.”

Freeport got two RBI from Shea and runs from Benedict and Cronin. The Falcons left five runners on.

Abbott bounced back from his rough start to earn a no-decision after giving up two runs on four hits in 4.2 innings. He walked two and struck out three.

“I don’t think Nate had his best stuff today, but he battled and found ways to get outs,” said Falcons coach Steve Shukie.

Aguiar took the loss after surrendering one run in 1.2 innings. He walked two and struck out one.

Wing got one out and walked three.

A blast and an ace

BOX SCORE (Game Two)

Greely 3 Freeport 0

G- 002 010 0- 3 4 1
F- 000 000 0- 0 3 1

Top 3rd
Kolben homered to center, Nolin and Kolben scored.

Top 5th
Cloutier scored on wild pitch.

Runs:
G- Cloutier, Kolben, Nolin

RBI:
G- Kolben 2

Home run:
G- Kolben

Stolen bases:
G- Nolin 2

Left on base:
G- 7
F- 2

Johnston, Axelsen (7) and Kolben; Panciocco, Aguiar (6) and von Glinsky-Gregoire.

G:
Johnston (W) 6 IP 2 H 0 R 1 BB 10 K
Axelsen (Save) 1 IP 1 H 0 R 0 BB 1 K 1 WP

F:
Panciocco (L) 5 IP 4 H 3 R 3 ER 3 BB 1 K 1 HBP 1 WP
Aguiar 2 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 3 K

Time: 1:37

Conditions hadn’t improved much by the start of game two and as a result, there would be just seven combined hits, as Johnston and Panciocco more or less had their way.

With one big exception.

Freeport was the home team for the second contest and Panciocco gave up a couple loud outs in the top of the first.

Cloutier, the shortstop, flew out deep to Cockburn in center, Nolin, the centerfielder, flew out to left and after Panciocco hit Kolben, the catcher, with a pitch, he struck out Williams, the leftfielder.

In the bottom half, Johnston picked up right where he left off, catching Cockburn looking at strike three, Gideon, the third baseman, to pop to second on a full count pitch and Panciocco to strike out looking as well.

In the top of the second, Neleski, the designated hitter, bid for a home run, but flew out deep to left to Benedict, again. Axelsen, the third baseman, beat out an infield single up the middle, but Allard, the rightfielder, flew out to center and Jowett, the first baseman, popped out to third.

In the bottom half, Johnston caught Abbott, the designated player, looking at strike three, blew strike three past von Glinsky-Gregoire, the catcher, then got Wing, the rightfielder, to pop out to Jowett, who made the catch right in front of the Freeport dugout.

Greely would get the only offense it would need in the top of the third.

Sheff led off by popping out to third, but Cloutier went the other way and lined a single to right. After Nolin bounced into a short-to-second force out, Nolin stole second and had the best seat in the house for Kolben’s at-bat.

Kolben waited for something off-speed from Panciocco, got it, then crushed the ball deep to center, over Cockburn’s head and over the wall for a two-run home run and a 2-0 lead.

Greely junior catcher Ryan Kolben has a welcoming committee after his third inning home run puts the Rangers up, 2-0.

“I was sitting on a curve-ball,” Kolben said. “I thought it was coming. He hung it and I took a swing at it. I knew it was gone. Felt good. It was what I needed.”

“We got the big home run from Ryan,” Soule said. “He can hit any pitch, especially if he’s looking for something.”

Williams then singled to center, but was thrown out trying to steal to end the frame.

In the bottom of the third, Johnston struck out senior first baseman Elias Thomas and after walking Aguiar, the shortstop, on four pitches, Johnston got some luck and some help from his defense as with Aguiar going, Shea hit a shot to deep right, but Allard made the catch on the run, then threw back to first for the inning-ending double play.

“We got that big double play,’ Soule said. “A nice running catch by Grant.”

“Keigan has a little bit of a Dustin Pedroia big swing for a guy in little shoes,” Shukie said. “He’s a tough player for us.”

In the top of the fourth, Nolin swung at the first pitch he saw and grounded out to Gideon, who threw to first where Thomas made a nice scoop. Axelsen then grounded out to third before Allard popped out to short.

In the bottom half, Cockburn singled sharply to right leading off for the Falcons’ first hit, but Gideon grounded out to third, with Cockburn taking second, Panciocco popped out foul to first on a 3-2 pitch and Abbott struck out swinging.

The Rangers added a run in the fifth, without benefit of a hit.

Jowett walked leading off and sophomore courtesy runner Sam Carter moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Sheff. Cloutier grounded out to second, with Carter moving to third and with Nolin up, a wild pitch from Panciocco scored Greely’s third run. Nolin then walked, as did Kolben, but they were both stranded when Williams flew out deep to right.

Freeport threatened in the bottom half, as von Glinsky-Gregoire singled to right, then took second on an errant pickoff attempt from Johnston, but the ace fanned Wing, got Cronin, pinch-hitting, to bounce back to the mound, then fanned Aguiar.

Aguiar replaced Panciocco for the top of the sixth and the inning began with a breathtaking defensive play from Cockburn in center. Neleski crushed a pitch that appeared be good for a home run, but Cockburn raced back, got to the fence, then leaped, caught the ball and balanced himself to record the out.

“We did hit an unusual amount of balls to the fence and Blaine made a great play there,” Soule said.

After Axelsen reached on an error at second, where Shea couldn’t handle a tough hop, Allard struck out swinging and Jowett bounced out to third.

Johnston’s final inning saw him get Shea to pop out to short, Cockburn to watch strike three and Gideon to chase strike three on a 3-2 offering.

In the top of the seventh, Sheff lined out to center, Cloutier struck out swinging, then Nolin watched strike three on a full count pitch.

Axelsen came on to close in the bottom half, but it wasn’t easy.

On the first pitch, Panciocco hit a sharp grounder to third, but Nolin, who just moved to the position, stabbed it, then threw on to first base for the out. Benedict reached on an infield single to second, but after von Glinsky-Gregoire flew out deep to right, pinch-hitter Robert Landry struck out swinging to bring the curtain down on the Rangers’ 3-0 victory.

“It felt amazing to get the sweep,” Kolben said. “Much needed. Good times.”

Greely again only managed four hits, but Kolben had one big hit and drove in a pair. He also scored a run, as did Cloutier and Nolin.

The Rangers stranded seven runners.

Johnston dazzled in his six shutout innings, allowing just two hits, one walk and striking out 10.

“Zach hit his locations,” said Kolben. “He was dominant and efficient today. That’s why he’s going to (the University of) Maryland.”

“I’m very happy with Zach,” Soule said. “I love his rhythm. I love how he pounds the strike zone. I would have loved to have played behind him. I love pitchers who work fast. He’s fun to watch. He put guys away.”

Axelsen earned the save with a clean seventh. He gave up a hit and struck out one.

Freeport produced just two hits and couldn’t score, leaving only two runners on the basepaths.

Panciocco pitched well, but earned the loss after giving up three runs on four hits in five innings. He walked three and struck out one.

Aguiar pitched two scoreless innings of relief, fanning three.

“We battled,” Shukie said. “We could have packed it in. Johnston’s good. We’ve faced him 14 or 15 innings this week and didn’t score a run off him. We had chances, but he throws strikes. He doesn’t get himself into trouble. You have to earn it against him.

“We’ve played six games against probably the top two teams in Class B and in only one of those six games we were out of it.”

Time to get serious 

Freeport (currently ranked eighth in the Class B South Heal Points standings) closes at Lake Region Tuesday and would love to get back on track before the playoffs start.

The Falcons know they can be a tough out.

“I think we have the pitching to compete,” Shukie said. “We’ll see if (Greely and Yarmouth) can beat us four times. That’s what we’re counting on.”

Greely (second to Yarmouth in Class B South at press time) finishes with a home game against Gray-New Gloucester Tuesday, then will look to make a run at a championship.

“We’re going for it all,” Neleski said. “We’re doing amazing so far. Hopefully we can make a run. We’ll give it our all, that’s for sure.”

“I think we’re in a good mindset,” Johnston said. “We’re pitching well, fielding well. I think we’re in the zone right now.”

“We still have more work to do, but we’re coming together as a team and it’s good to see,” Kolben said. “We just have to stay consistent and win the games and the innings we have to win. We have the guys.”

“We’ll see where the final Heals are,” Soule added. “It should be Yarmouth and us close for the one and two seeds. We’d like to host. I’ve had the privilege of coaching for and being an assistant for championship teams. I think the potential is there. We have a solid lineup, a couple really solid starting pitchers, then you have the catcher, the defense and good chemistry. Maybe more important than anything, they’re competitive kids. We’ll see what happens.”

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

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