BOX SCORE 

Freeport 4 Greely 1

F- 000 400 0- 4 6 1
G- 000 001 0- 1 7 0

Top 4th
von Glinsky-Gregoire doubled to right, Gideon and Cockburn scored. Abbott flew out to left, Panciocco scored. Cronin singled to center, von Glinsky-Gregoire scored.

Bottom 6th
Jowett walked, Kolben scored.

Multiple hits:
F- Panciocco
G- Kolben, Nolin

Runs:
F- Cockburn, Gideon, Panciocco, von Glinsky-Gregoire
G- Kolben

RBI:
F- von Glinsky-Gregoire 2, Abbott, Cronin
G- Jowett

Double:
F- von Glinsky-Gregoire

Stolen base:
G- Nolin

Left on base:
F- 2
G- 10

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

F:
Cockburn (W) 5.1 IP 5 H 1 R 1 ER 3 BB 6 K 4 WP 1 HBP
Aguiar 0.2 IP 0 H 0 R 0 BB 0 K
Abbott (Save) 1 IP 2 H 0 R 1 BB 1 K

G:
Johnston (L) 7 IP 6 H 4 R 4 ER 1 BB 11 K

Time: 1:41

STANDISH—Something magical happens when Freeport’s baseball team plays at Mahaney Diamond on the campus of St. Joseph’s College.

Wednesday evening, in the Class B South Final, the Falcons, who suffered a six-game losing streak last month, capped a dazzling run from the No. 9 seed to regional champion when they upset second-ranked Greely, thanks to one big inning and three strong arms.

Freeport senior ace Blaine Cockburn held the Rangers scoreless through three while he and his teammates weren’t able to solve Greely junior flame-thrower Zach Johnston.

But in the top of the fourth, the Falcons erupted for four runs, as junior catcher Kempton von Glinsky-Gregoire hit a bases loaded double, junior centerfielder Nathan Abbott added a sacrifice fly and junior designated hitter Colin Cronin hit a clutch two-out RBI single.

The Rangers refused to buckle, however, and in the bottom of the sixth, got on the board when senior first baseman Dawson Jowett walked with the bases loaded, but sophomore Zane Aguiar came on in relief of Cockburn and retired the side.

Abbott came in to close in the seventh and got in immediate trouble, loading the bases with no one out, but in a memorable Houdini act, he got a strikeout, then induced a double play off the bat of senior designated hitter Cooper Neleski and just like that, Freeport was regional champion again by virtue of a 4-1 victory.

The Falcons won their third Class B South crown since 2016, improved to 14-6, ended Greely’s season at 16-4 and advanced to take on Old Town (15-4) in the Class B state final Saturday at 11 a.m., at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor.

“Every single one of our guys believes in each other,” said von Glinsky-Gregoire. “We’ve always been a team that stays together. Our slogan is, ‘We, not me.'”

Too much pitching

Greely entered the season highly touted with Johnston, who has verbally committed to the University of Maryland, and senior Brady Nolin, who is a threat to throw a no-hitter any time he takes the mound.

The Rangers started the year 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. Greely 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, the Rangers swept a doubleheader at the Capers, 8-0 and 13-0 (in five-innings), then blanked host Freeport, 12-0 (in five-innings) before defeating host Gray-New Gloucester (12-1), sweeping Freeport in a doubleheader (3-2 and 3-0) and closing with an 11-1 (five-inning) home victory over Gray-New Gloucester.

Greely’s title hopes were nearly dashed in the Round of 16, when it didn’t register a hit and trailed No. 15 Morse, 3-0, heading to the bottom of the sixth, but even without the benefit of a hit, the Rangers found a way to score four times and they survived and advanced, 4-3. The next two rounds were much easier, as Greely blanked No. 7 Erskine Academy, 6-0, in the quarterfinals, then, behind another Nolin no-hitter, eliminated No. 3 Wells, 4-0, in the semifinals to reach the regional final for the first time since 2018.

Freeport had a roller-coaster ride of a season, but saved its best for last.

The Falcons 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. Freeport then lost three straight to Greely, 12-0 (in five-innings) and 3-2 and 3-0 in a doubleheader before finally getting back on track in the regular season finale with a 13-6 win at Lake Region.

The Falcons started the playoffs at No. 8 Fryeburg Academy in the Round of 16 and won in five-innings, 11-1. They then got a break as top-ranked Yarmouth was upset by No. 16 Gray-New Gloucester, allowing Freeport to host the Patriots in the quarterfinal round where the Falcons won again by mercy rule, 10-0, in six-innings. In Saturday’s semifinal round, at No. 5 York, Freeport rolled, 7-1, to reach the regional final for the third time in five seasons.

“We beat Lake Region and that got our energy up and coming in as the underdog has helped us drive through everything,” said Abbott.

“We needed to change our approach at the plate and be more aggressive,” first-year Falcons coach Steve Shukie said. “We were letting too many good pitches with one strike go by. The bats have livened up. We’ve hit the ball well in the other three playoff games and the pitching and defense are there.”

While Greely’s arms were the difference in the three regular season encounters, Freeport has gotten the better of the Rangers in the postseason, winning two of three all-time meetings prior to Wednesday, including victories in the 2016 Class B South semifinal round (1-0) and the 2019 Class B South semifinal round (4-2).

Wednesday, on a beautiful evening (68 degrees with a slight wind at first pitch) at a beautiful setting, pitchers dominated the first three innings before the Falcons put up a crooked number that ultimately held up.

Johnston retired senior third baseman Julian Gideon on a ground ball to second to start the game, then he got Cockburn to line out deep to center. Senior shortstop Anthony Panciocco singled to left-center, but with von Glinsky-Gregoire at the plate, Johnston picked Paniocco off to retire the side.

In the bottom of the first, Cockburn retired junior shortstop Max Clouter on a grounder to short, got Nolin, the centerfielder, to ground out softly to Gideon at third, then junior catcher Ryan Kolben reached on a ground ball that got past Panciocco for an error and he moved up to second on a wild pitch. Cockburn got out of the inning, as he induced senior leftfielder Brooks Williams to ground out to short.

Johnston was overpowering in the top of the second, catching von Glinsky-Gregoire looking at strike three, firing strike three past Abbott, then getting junior rightfielder Gus Wing to bounce softly back to the mound.

In the bottom half, Neleski grounded out to second, freshman third baseman Mark Axelsen lined out to center and after Jowett singled to center for Greely’s first hit, senior rightfielder Grant Allard lined out to second for the third out.

Johnston started the top of the third by catching Cronin looking at strike three, then fanning senior leftfielder Caden Benedict. Junior second baseman Keigan Shea drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch, but with Gideon at the plate, Johnston picked Shea off to end the threat.

The Rangers got a man in scoring position in the bottom of the frame, as after junior second baseman Liam Sheff struck out swinging and Cloutier lined out to left, Nolin lined a single to center on the first pitch, then stole second, but Kolben bounced back to Cockburn for the final out.

Freeport’s bats then came to life in the top of the fourth.

Gideon got things started by beating out an infield single. Cockburn then bunted in front of the plate and Kolben’s throw to second was high, putting two runners on. Panciocco then singled to right to load the bases for von Glinsky-Gregoire.

Back on May 29, in a 3-2 loss to Greely, von Glinsky-Gregoire struck out in a key spot against Johnston, but this time, he lined a double down the rightfield line, bringing home Gideon and Cockburn and putting runners at second and third.

“We’ve seen maybe 12 innings of Zach’s pitching and we were ready in our brains and had him timed up,” said von Glinsky-Gregoire. “On the bus ride down, I visualized getting that hit. I was sitting fastball and he threw me a curveball and I adjusted. I was a little out in front of it and I got a great swing on it.”

“Kempton’s got a big swing, but when he does connect, he hits line shots,” Shukie said. “That’s why he bats fourth for us.

Abbott was next and he flew out deep to left and his sacrifice fly scored Panciocco and moved von Glinsky-Gregoire to third.

“I was just trying to make contact and get it in the field,” Abbott said. “I knew just about anything would get the run in.”

Johnston struck out Wing, but Cronin came through in the clutch, grounding a 3-2 pitch into center to bring home von Glinsky-Gregoire to make it 4-0.

“Colin’s two-out single was huge,” Shukie said. “A fourth run made a big difference. Zach got the ball up a little bit that inning and we were patient. We found some holes and ran the bases well. Other than that, he was almost unhittable. For a stretch of five batters, we put it together and that’s what we needed.”

Benedict struck out for the final out, but Cockburn had a seemingly comfortable lead.

“We just fight and find a way to get on base and score and win,” Cockburn said. “I was relieved to have four runs on the board, but I knew I had to go out there and throw strikes.”

In the bottom of the fourth, Cockburn struck out Williams swinging, caught Neleski looking at strike three, then got Axelsen to ground out to second on a bang-bang play.

Shea tried to ignite another rally in the top of the fifth when he led off with an infield single, but Gideon struck out swinging and after Cockburn sacrificed Shea to second, Panciocco lined out to center.

In the bottom half, Jowett grounded out back to the mound, but Allard walked. Cockburn fanned Sheff on an off-speed pitch, but with Cloutier at the plate, a wild pitch moved Allard to second. Cloutier then singled to right to put runners at the corners. Cockburn then threw another wild pitch, which allowed Cloutier to move to second, but Allard had to hold at third on the play. Nolin then had a chance to cut the deficit in half, but he struck out swinging on a 2-2 pitch.

Johnston made quick work of the Falcons in the top of the sixth, catching von Glinsky-Gregoire looking at strike three, fanning Abbott, then getting Wing to pop out to second.

In the bottom half, Kolben led off with a single to right and moved up to second on a wild pitch. Williams then walked and Neleski followed with a single to right to load the bases. Cockburn then went 3-2 on Axelsen and threw a pitch that Greely felt was high, but the umpire called strike three. That brought up Jowett, who drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch and the Rangers were on the board, as Kolben came home.

That was it for Cockburn, who moved to center as Aguiar came on in relief.

The sophomore got Allard to line out to Shea on the first pitch he saw, then, on a 2-2 pitch, he got Sheff to bounce back to the mound to keep the score 4-1.

“We had our ace out there, then we had confidence to bring in a sophomore who had never pitched in a playoff game before to shut them down,” said von Glinsky-Gregoire.

“We’re confident with Zane,” Shukie said. “He pitched well against (Greely) in the regular season.”

Johnston finished his complete game in the top of the seventh by getting Cronin to chase strike three, Benedict to ground out to second and Shea to swing and miss at strike three.

That set the stage for a most eventful, but ultimately scoreless final half-inning.

Abbott came on to close and got in immediate trouble by walking Cloutier. Nolin then singled to left and Kolben singled up the middle to load the bases again with no one out.

Abbott then worked the count full against Williams before getting him to chase strike three.

“If (Nathan) walked him, the tone of the game would have shifted, but I had confidence he’d throw that strike,” said von Glinsky-Gregoire. “It was nervewracking, but I knew because of the connection I have with Nathan, we’ve been playing together since we were seven, I knew he’d make that pitch.”

Neleski then came up with a chance to keep the game alive or even win it with one big swing.

Neleski would hit the ball hard, but on the ground, right at Panciocco at short. Panciocco flipped to Shea at second for one out and while Shea bounced his throw to first, senior Elias Thomas caught it on a bounce to complete the double play and at 8:08 p.m., the Falcons were able to celebrate their 4-1 triumph.

“I knew (Neleski) was looking to just make contact, so I wanted to keep it low and I got exactly what I wanted, a ground ball up the middle and we turned two,” Abbott said. “That was just the best feeling. We’ve gotten so much momentum the past couple games. We had more energy than we had the first few Greely games. That got us going.”

“It’s an amazing feeling,” said von Glinsky-Gregoire. “It was a great scoop by (Elias).”

“This feels great,” Cockburn said. “I had the same feeling (two years ago). We knew we’d see Greely in the playoffs. I don’t think they knew they’d see us. I was confident because Greely hadn’t seen me and every one of those games (we played them before) was winnable. I knew things would get interesting. They have a stacked lineup. Everyone 1-through-9 can hit. On the mound or at the plate, Nathan’s done his job all year. He’s confident, hits his spots and throws strikes. As soon as I saw him hit that spot low and outside, I knew they’d roll it up (into a double play).”

“With Blaine on the mound and a 4-0 lead, I felt pretty good,” Shukie added. “We did run into some trouble, but like all year, our defense really came through. It was an exciting last two innings, but we got through it. Cooper’s a fly ball hitter if there ever was one. In that situation, he’s trying to end it maybe with one swing. He could do it. My assistant (Scott Shea) went out there and told Nathan to put it low and away. He couldn’t do it for a couple batters, but he did it there. We have a good middle infield on a good field here and a big old first baseman to scoop it up. I was expecting at least one more batter, but it was a great way to end it.”

Freeport managed six hits, as Panciocco had a pair.

Cockburn, Gideon, Panciocco and von Glinsky-Gregoire all scored runs.

Von Glinsky-Gregoire, who had the game’s lone extra base hit, drove in two runs, while Abbott and Cronin also had RBI.

The Falcons only stranded two baserunners.

Cockburn earned the victory, giving up one earned run on five hits in 5.1 innings. He walked three and struck out six.

“I was pumped to take the ball,” said the University of Maine-bound Cockburn. “I’ve been manifesting this game since last year. I knew this game would happen eventually. I wasn’t even nervous because I was so ready and prepared. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.”

“Blaine is incredible, his ability to keep going,” Abbott said.

“Our whole game plan was that we didn’t want Greely to see Blaine,” said von Glinsky-Gregoire. “He’s so good. His fastball, curveball, a change-up once in awhile, I’ve never played with another pitcher as good as him.”

“We saw this one coming from early in the year and we knew they wouldn’t see anyone like (Blaine),” Shukie added. “We knew we’d have to get through (Greely) to get to the state championship, so we wanted to save him and that’s what we did.”

“They hid Blaine in the (earlier) three-game series,” said longtime Greely coach Derek Soule. “The chances were unlikely we’d actually meet. We were on opposite sides of the bracket, but it worked out for them.”

Aguiar retired both batters he faced.

Abbott then earned the save, giving up two hits and a walk in his one inning, striking out one and inducing the biggest double play in program history.

“I was nervous, but I settled in,” Abbott said. “After I got the strikeout, the feeling was awesome and I knew I could throw strikes.”

“I wanted to make sure Nate was ready to go,” said Shukie. “That’s why I made the switch and put Blaine in centerfield so Nathan could go get loose. We thought Blaine would get through six easily, then all of sudden he was up against it. We were going to get Nathan ready for the seventh anyway.”

Waste not, want not

Greely got two hits apiece from Kolben and Nolin, a run from Kolben and an RBI from Jowett, but the Rangers stranded 10.

“We stranded plenty of runners and down four, we had to be conservative,” Soule said. “That was tough to overcome.”

Johnston took the loss, giving up four earned runs on six hits in seven innings. He walked one and struck out 11.

“Zach shut Freeport out 19 of 20 innings this year, but that one inning, there are a few things I’d like to have back,” Soule said. “There was a borderline call on the leadoff batter, then the bunt we misplayed. If we got one of those, it changes the entire inning.

“With the pitching matchup, we anticipated a low-scoring, grind-it-out kind of game where one bad inning could be the difference. Facing a pitcher of Blaine’s caliber, down four would have broken the spirit of a lot of teams, but I’m so proud how these guys continued to compete and battle.

“This group was so enjoyable to work with because they play with such spirit and energy. They’re just fun, not only in games but in practices as well. They set a school record with 10 shutouts. We faced a tough task today against a pitcher we hadn’t seen, trying to beat them for the fourth time this year.

“Right now, I’m thinking about the seniors, but we will have a strong nucleus back in the spring of 2022.”

Seven innings to glory

Freeport was beaten by Old Town, 12-2, in five-innings, in the 2016 Class B state final, in the teams’ lone prior playoff encounter.

The Falcons hope that their third trip to state final will be the charm and will result in the program’s first championship.

“We’ve been here before,” said von Glinsky-Gregoire. “Now we want to win one more game and do something Freeport’s never done before. We just have to play our game like we have all season. If we play our game and have confidence, we know we can get it done.”

“We just need to keep our momentum rolling and keep the bats going and stay focused,” Abbott said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

“I’m pumped to play in another state game,” Cockburn said. “We know what we need to do. We just need to play how we’ve been playing the past five games. Our whole team is pumped to get out there and win.”

“This can’t be enough even though it’s exciting,” Shukie added. “We have to get runs early like we’ve been getting. We can’t be satisfied. Anthony will start. He’s a senior. It’s his ball. Anthony and Nathan’s the plan. We’re hungry to get that state title.”

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

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