Freeport 7 Lincoln Academy 2

LA- 000 011 0- 2 4 4
F- 020 401 x- 7 6 2

Bottom 2nd
Panciocco and Pawlowski scored on error.

Bottom 4th
Pawlowski scored on ground ball. George scored on error. Panenka reached on infield single, Cobb scored. Burke scored on wild pitch.

Top 5th
Stiles scored on wild pitch.


Top 6th
Coffin scored on ground out.

Bottom 6th
Panenka singled to left, St. Pierre scored.

Multiple hits:
LA- Lafrenaye
F- Panenka 3

LA- Coffin, Stiles
F- Pawlowski 2, Burke, Cobb, George, Panciocco, St. Pierre

LA- Hammond
F- Panenka 2, Burke

F- Pawlowski


Stolen bases:
F- Cobb, Panenka, Pawlowski, St. Pierre

Left on base:
LA- 5
F- 7

P. Kaler, Houghton (5) and Houghton, Scott (5); Gervais, George (5) and St. Pierre.

P. Kaler 4 IP 5 H 6 R 3 ER 2 BB 8 K 3 WP
Houghton 2 IP 1 H 1 R 1 ER 1 BB 2 K

Gervais (W) 4.1 IP 4 H 1 R 1 ER 1 BB 1 K
George 2.2 IP 0 H 1 R 0 ER 0 BB 3 K 1 HBP 1 WP

Time: 1:49


FREEPORT—The feel-good, history-making Freeport softball team marches on.

And Tuesday afternoon, on their home diamond, one year after winning just two games, the Falcons continued their season of resurgence with the program’s biggest victory in two decades.

And as bright as the present seems, the future for this squad is even better.

Freeport, ranked eighth in Class B South, hosted No. 9 Lincoln Academy in a preliminary round contest and behind strong pitching, timely hitting, good defense and opportunistic play managed to party like it’s 2002.

Falcons junior pitcher Ava Gervais retired the first six Eagles she faced, thanks in part to a stellar defensive play from sophomore shortstop Rosie Panenka, whose bat would later take centerstage.

In the bottom of the second, Freeport went on top to stay, as sophomore third baseman Amanda Panciocco and senior leftfielder Brook Pawlowski came home on an error for a 2-0 lead.


The Falcons then got some breathing room in the fourth, as a Pawlowski double sparked a four-run uprising, which also featured an RBI single from Panenka, to make the score 6-0.

Lincoln Academy then threatened to get back in the game in the fifth, scoring once and putting two runners on, but freshman Izzy George came on in relief to extinguish the threat.

The Eagles scored another run, unearned, in the sixth, but a Panenka RBI single got it back in the bottom half and George slammed the door in the seventh as Freeport prevailed, 7-2.

The Falcons won their first tournament game since June 4, 2002, improved to 12-5 on the season, ended Lincoln Academy’s campaign at 11-6 and in the process, advanced to take on top-ranked York (16-1) in the Class B South quarterfinals Thursday, at York, at a time to be announced.

“I’m just speechless at this point,” said Freeport coach Jason Daniel. “I don’t know what to think or say. To take this next step is just beyond me.”

History makers


No current Freeport players had been born the last time the Falcons hosted a playoff game (1992), posted a winning record (2002), or won in the postseason (that same year).

This year’s squad might be young, but it’s made a powerful, immediate impact and has been bolstered by the addition of assistant coach Rich George.

“Coach Rich has really taken the program and made something out of it,” said Panenka. “Everyone’s more invested. There’s more effort and energy all around. I think the chemistry and momentum when we’re all out there with a lot of energy really feeds us and gets us going. I think it’s the effort we’re putting in.”

“The girls said from the beginning of the season that they were changing the program and things would be different,” Daniel said. “Rich George has come on and helped me out. He’s a huge part of this team. I’m comfortable making decisions with him.”

Freeport won its first four games and never looked back, going 11-5 and holding off Lincoln Academy, which had an identical record, for the No. 8 spot in Class B South and the home preliminary round contest which came with it.

The Falcons and Eagles didn’t meet this spring and had no playoff history.


Tuesday, on a comfortable (69 degrees at first pitch) but cloudy afternoon, Freeport showed that its regular season was no fluke as it managed to win a playoff game for the first time since George W. Bush was early in his first term in office and the New England Patriots had just won their first Super Bowl.

Gervais made quick work of Lincoln Academy in the top of the first, as she got centerfielder Cat Johnson to ground out back to the mound on the first pitch, then got Payson Kaler, her opposite number, to hit the first pitch as well and fly out deep to left, to Pawlowski in front of the fence. Rightfielder Natalie Kaler didn’t hit the first pitch, but she did bounce out to senior first baseman Jaclyn Burke to end the 1-2-3 inning.

The Falcons then had a chance to strike first in the bottom half, but couldn’t covert.

Freshman centerfielder Celia Cobb led off and worked the count full before singling to right. Burke then struck out swinging. With freshman catcher Vanessa St. Pierre at the plate, Cobb stole second, then St. Pierre reached when she bunted and Eagles third baseman Mia Northrop threw the ball away, putting runners at second and third. Panenka then hit the ball soundly, but right at Northrop and this time, Northrop cleanly made the play, throwing across for the second out. Sophomore rightfielder Norah Albertini worked the count full, but Payson Kaler struck her out to keep the game scoreless.

Panenka then put on a fielding show in the top of the second.

Catcher Grace Houghton led off by popping the ball toward shallow left-center, but Panenka went back, reached over her head, then toppled to the turf with the ball still in her glove for the out.


“My defense is definitely the strongest part of my game,” said Panenka. “I love those belly plays. Getting dirty is my favorite thing.”

Shortstop Nicole Hammond then popped to Panenka before first baseman Olivia Stiles grounded out to Panenka for the third out.

Freeport then broke through in the bottom half, with a little help.

Panciocco got things started with a walk and with Pawlowski at the plate, Kaler twice threw wild pitches to put Panciocco at third. Pawlowski then walked and stole second, but Kaler appeared primed to escape the inning when she fanned both freshman designated player Ciara Daly and Izzy George, who began the game at second base. Cobb then grounded toward second baseman Gretchen Farrin, who got to the ball, but it bounced off her for an error and both Panciocco and Pawlowski raced home. Burke struck out looking, but the Falcons had the lead for good, 2-0.

“It was really important to get the lead,” said Pawlowski. “We’ve struggled in past games having energy early, but we stayed energized the whole game and it was amazing.”

Gervais protected the lead in the top of the third, even though she allowed her first two baserunners.


Leftfielder Paige Lafrenaye beat out a bunt single leading off, but she was picked off by Gervais, who threw to Burke at first, who then threw to Panenka, who tagged out the runner after digging out the throw. Northrop then worked the count full and fouled off several pitches before chasing strike three. Designated player Regan Duncan kept the inning alive with a single to right-center, but Johnson grounded into a force play to end it.

Freeport couldn’t add to its lead in the bottom half, as St. Pierre lined out to first and after Panenka reached on an infield single and stole second, Albertini looked at strike three and after Panenka went to third on an errant pickoff throw from Kaler, Panciocco struck out looking to end the threat.

Gervais then produced the most economical inning possible in the top of the fourth, retiring the side on three pitches, as she induced Payson Kaler to line out deep to Cobb in center, Natalie Kaler to pop out to first and Houghton to ground out to second.

The Falcons then got some insurance in the bottom half.

Pawlowski got things started by slapping a double the other way, down the leftfield line.

“Brook had a big game and played really well,” Daniel said. “She struggled for a couple games, but really came through today.”


Daly struck out swinging, but George singled to center and when the throw went to third, George moved up to second. Cobb then laid down a bunt that Houghton pounced on but had no play on and the bases were loaded. That brought up Burke, who grounded to short, where Hammond tried to throw to Northrop at third for the force out, but the throw was high and not only did Pawlowski score on the play, but George came home as well, with the runners moving to second and third. St. Pierre then grounded to Northrop to third and after Northrop initially looked to make a play at third, her throw to first was too late and the bases were loaded again. Panenka then hit a sharp grounder that Hammond knocked down for an infield single, momentarily saving one run, but on the play, Cobb came home and scored and the bases were loaded again. With Albertini at the plate, Kaler threw a wild pitch and Burke scored. Albertini would pop up a bunt to third and Panciocco lined back to the mound, but Freeport was now up by a seemingly comfortable 6-0 margin.

The Eagles then showed some life in the top of the fifth.

Hammond led off by grounding out sharply to third, but Stiles reached on an infield hit and Lafrenaye followed with her second bunt single as Stiles moved up to third. A wild pitch scored Stiles Lincoln Academy’s first run, but it could have had more. After Gervais walked Northrop on a 3-2 pitch, she was pulled for George, who would put out the fire.

First, George threw a wild pitch to put runners at second and third, but with Duncan at the plate, St. Pierre caught Lafrenaye off the bag and she would be tagged out for a huge second out. Duncan then took a 3-2 pitch for strike three and the score remained 6-1.

Houghton came on to pitch for the Eagles in the bottom half and got Pawlowski to ground out to short, Daly to chase strike three and George to bounce out to short.

Lincoln Academy had one more chance to rally in the top of the sixth, but again, had to settle for one run.


Johnson led off by grounding out to second. Payson Kaler then hit a routine fly ball to right that was dropped for an error. Natalie Kaler followed with a grounder to second which was also bobbled and the Eagles had two on. When Houghton hit a roller to the left of Panciocco at third and Panciocco tried to make the play at third too late, the bases were loaded, but George got Hammond to ground into a short-to-third force out with pinch-runner Bronwyn Coffin scoring on the play, before fanning Stiles to keep the score 6-2.

Freeport then got that run back in the bottom half.

Cobb was out on a bunt attempt leading off, then Burke popped out to short, but St. Pierre walked on a 3-2 pitch and stole second and Panenka brought her in with a sharp single to left. Albertini struck out, but the Falcons were three outs from victory.

George then finished it off.

She got Lafrenaye to ground out to second leading off, then caught Northrop looking at strike three. George then hit Duncan with a pitch, but settled down and retired Johnson on a bunt back to the mound and at 6:16 p.m., after 20 years and 3 days of waiting, Freeport had a playoff victory, 7-2.

“The feeling is just amazing,” Pawlowski said. “It really means a lot to me, especially senior year. It’s so exciting.”


“Lincoln came down to play,” Daniel said. “They’re no joke. Their pitcher throws hard. We didn’t know anything about them. We just really held our defense well today.”

Panenka paced the offense with three hits and a pair of RBI. She crushed the ball every time and could have had even more production were it not for a couple nice defensive plays.

“I just get a lot of hitting reps outside practice,” Panenka said. “That’s helped a lot.”

“Rosie hit it really, really hard today,” Daniel said.

Pawlowski scored two runs, while Burke, Cobb, George, Panciocco and St. Pierre all touched home once.

Burke also had an RBI.


The Falcons stranded seven base runners.

Gervais earned the win, giving up one run on four hits in 4.1 innings. She walked one and struck out one.

George was terrific in relief, surrendering one unearned run on no hits in 2.2 innings. She fanned three.

“Having two pitchers is a big deal,” Pawlowski said. “They’re both really strong and they can work around any errors. They stayed focused the whole game.”

“Ava pitched well out of the box and Izzy was stout,” Daniel said.

For the Eagles, Lafrenaye had two hits, Coffin and Stiles scored the runs and Hammond had an RBI.


Lincoln Academy left five runners on.

Payson Kaler took the loss after giving up six runs (three earned) on five hits in four innings of work. She walked two and struck out eight.

Houghton surrendered one earned run on one hit in two innings of relief, walking one and fanning two.

“Our problem is pressure,” lamented Eagles coach Tom Nelson, who announced after the game he was stepping down after 10 seasons. “When we get down, that’s when the mistakes come. We had some baserunning mistakes where if we were a little more patient, it would have been a different ballgame. When you don’t bring your best against a good team, this is usually the outcome.

“It’s an abrupt ending to a lot of work. We accomplished a lot. We only lost to three other teams, to Medomak, Gardiner and Leavitt, and they’re all higher seeds than us. We had a really good season. It’s a great group.”

Nothing to lose


Freeport lost at York back on May 2 (10-0, in six-innings). The teams have never met in the postseason.

The Falcons, who faced pressure Tuesday, plan to play relaxed in the quarterfinal round.

“We love being the underdogs,” said Panenka. “It’s fun. We’re going to bring it at York.”

“I’m excited,” said Pawlowski. “I think we’ll bring everything we have.”

“I think we have a good chance,” Daniel added. “York’s beatable and that’s what we have to take into consideration. We have to go down there with a positive attitude and work hard and hope for the best.”

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

Comments are not available on this story.