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Forecaster Sports
Posted
Updated June 22
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Freeport falls in baseball state final

Falcons bested by Old Town, 7-3.

As it turned out, the third time wasn’t the charm.

Freeport’s baseball team last week knocked off Greely in the Class B South Final, but in the state game, in Bangor, the Falcons couldn’t solve Old Town and lost on the last day of the season for the third time since 2016.

But what a ride it was.

Freeport, technically the reigning regional champion after capturing the Class B South title in 2019, rode a roller coaster during the regular season, winning its first nine games, then dropping six in a row, three straight against both Yarmouth and Greely. The Falcons closed with a win at Lake Region, but as the No. 9 seed, weren’t given much of a chance to make a deep playoff run.

Guess again.

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 the semifinal round, at No. 5 York, Freeport rolled, 7-1.

Awaiting the Falcons in the Class B South Final Wednesday at St. Joseph’s College in Standish was No. 2 Greely.

The Rangers won their final seven regular season games and 11 of their last 12 and entered the postseason red-hot.

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 eliminated No. 3 Wells, 4-0, in the semifinals to reach the regional final for the first time since 2018.

Wednesday’s Class B South Final was billed as a pitcher’s duel between Freeport’s University of Maine-bound junior Blaine Cockburn and Greely’s University of Maryland-bound junior Zach Johnston and with the exception of one half-inning, the hurlers dominated.

After three scoreless innings, the Falcons erupted for four runs in the top of the fourth, 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 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 Cooper Neleski and just like that, Freeport was regional champion again by virtue of a 4-1 victory.

“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.”

“This feels great,” Cockburn said. “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).”

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

“With Blaine on the mound and a 4-0 lead, I felt pretty good,” first-year Freeport coach Steve 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. I was expecting at least one more batter, but it was a great way to end it.”

Freeport shows off the regional championship trophy after beating Greely in the Class B South Final last week. Gregory Rec / Portland Press Herald

Greely got two hits apiece from Ryan Kolben and Brady Nolin, a run scored 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,” longtime Greely coach Derek Soule said. “That was tough to overcome. 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.”

State game struggle

In its first state final appearance in 2016, Freeport lost to Old Town, 12-2 (it also lost to Ellsworth in the 2019 state game). The Falcons got another shot at the Coyotes Saturday, but couldn’t capture the program’s first championship.

Old Town scored four times in the second inning and added three more runs in the fourth.

Freeport tried to rally, scoring three in the top of the sixth on singles by starting pitcher Anthony Panciocco, Abbott, Elias Thomas and Keigan Shea and a throwing error. Shea, who was 2 for 3, singled in a run with two outs after a nine-pitch at-bat.

Abbott pitched 2.2 shutout innings in relief. He came up to bat in the seventh with one on and two out, but grounded out to end it and the Coyotes prevailed, 7-3, as the Falcons’ season ended at 14-7.

Freeport’s Blaine Cockburn (2) embraces teammate Devin Lamb after losing to Old Town in the Class B baseball state final Saturday. Michael G. Seamans / Morning Sentinel

“We got a little unlucky,” said Panciocco, who had three singles. “We just couldn’t string (the hits).”

“(Old Town’s) as good a hitting team as we’ve seen all year,” Shukie said. “They just had line shot after line shot. They did it for a couple of innings and that was the difference. (Earlier in the playoffs), we were the ones to get up on teams. (Today) we had a couple of opportunities to get it close, but seven runs are a lot of runs (to overcome). We faced a very good team today. We had a successful year, overall. It’s just hard to end it here.”

Freeport will be affected by graduation, as Panciocco, Thomas, Caden Benedict and Julian Gideon depart.

“We are going to miss our four seniors,” Shukie said. “Anthony was a four-year member of the varsity squad and our best overall player this season. Elias was as unselfish a leader as you can find. Julian was one of the toughest outs in the area, made pitchers work every at-bat and played very well at second and third base. Caden is a tremendous baserunner who made things happen all the time, and covered so much ground in leftfield. All four were incredibly valuable to the team this year.

“When I got the job, a lot of people told me how good last year was supposed to be and how next year was supposed to be strong too, but that this year was more of a rebuilding year with this small senior class. Those guys made sure that wasn’t the case and led us on an amazing ride that unfortunately came up just short. They were great ambassadors for their team, their towns and their school. They will all be successful in life with their work ethics and attitude.”

Weep not for the Falcons, however, as a lot of talent will return in 2022, beginning with Abbott, Aguiar, Cockburn, Shea and von Glinsky-Gregoire.

The Falcons will try once again to finish the job.

“Obviously, we have high hopes and expectations for next year,” Shukie said. “A lot of teams can’t say they are returning pitchers like Blaine, Nathan and Zane. That’s a great place to start, along with Kempton at catcher, our spark-plug Keigan Shea at second and Colin Cronin, who was a clutch hitter all year at the (designated hitter) spot. We’ll have big expectations, but the season and playoffs can be tricky. One bad inning, mental error, or even tough call can change everything. We need to get a little stronger at the plate across the board and see if anyone from our strong freshman class can make that jump to varsity starter next season. Nothing is going to be handed to us and we know that there are some really strong teams just over the border from our district that will have us circled on the calendar.

“It should be fun, but it’s going to be tough to get back to states for the third consecutive time. That’s what makes runs like this one and the one in 2019 so special. Expect us to continue to focus on pitching and defense and to try and play the game the right way.  Hopefully that takes us a long way.”

Press Herald staff writer Kevin Thomas contributed to this story.

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

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