NEW GLOUCESTER – The Patriots put up the only two runs – Tanner Mann and Jake Winchester did the honors, both in the fifth – in a narrow win over the Falcons on Saturday afternoon, May 21. For their part, Freeport threatened a handful of times, but just couldn’t grab the timely hit they needed to get on the board.
“It’s always a battle,” G-NG head coach Brad Smith said of his team’s various matchups with Freeport. “When we’re both up, we go nine innings and it’s a one-run ballgame. When we’re both on the other side of .500 – in both situations, we play to a one-, two-run ballgame.”
“I told these guys what to expect, and they rose to the challenge,” Smith said of his boys. “Great pitching. (Starting pitcher) John Villanueva pitched very well. He [gave up] a double, but it was immaterial; we held ‘em. Defense came up and played well.”
Freeport head coach Bill Ridge applauded the opposition. “Villanueva did a nice job,” Ridge said. “He gets outs. He doesn’t strike a ton of guys out, but we didn’t get a ton of hard contact off him. So he did his job that way, and they play solid defense behind him.”
Smith said Freeport brought their usual brand of reliable ball to the field. “It was typical: They play solid defense, they get good pitching and they’ve got one or two kids tin their lineup that can beat you. Scrappy ballclub. If we have a rivalry, I think it’s Freeport – the proximity of the two towns, the kinds by and large know each other. So when they get together, it’s maybe bragging rights.”
The first four innings unfolded as a defensive see-saw. Villanueva coaxed a couple of flyouts and a groundout from the Falcons in the top of the first, but also gave up a walk. Freeport starting pitcher Shea Wagner relinquished a couple hits – a couple of singles, one to Zach Mann and another to Villanueva – in his opening go on the mound, and he beaned Nick McCann as well. But he also goaded enough opponents into easy fielding plays to keep the action even.
“Our big bugaboo all year long is leaving runners on base,” Smith said. “And we did today as well. We had runners on second and third we left on base, we had bases loaded one inning, left on base. Just not coming with that key hit.”
The next few innings all resembled the first. Villanueva threw a couple strikeouts in the second, and one each in the third and the fourth, and Wagner threw one in the fourth. But while both teams managed to get men in scoring position, neither could bring them home again – not, that is, until the fateful fifth.
In the fifth, then, Tanner Mann led off for the Patriots, and he led off auspiciously, knocking a single into right. Winchester sac bunted – but Wagner mishandled the ball and Winchester’s sacrifice turned into a success. Zach Mann then pushed his teammates ahead, sac bunting himself, and Tanner Mann rounded to home on a second Freeport fielding mistake. Winchester scored the 2-0 point when his brother, Eli, belted a single into right.
“With runners on second and third, we were looking at the possibility of what we call a safety squeeze,” Smith said, asked if the Patriots’ runs were the result of any unusual strategic decisions, or simply good old-fashioned hitting and running. “So, the batter knows it’s a sacrifice bunt for him, and the runner doesn’t break until he sees the ball in a good spot. And the pitcher ended up walking him. So we ended up the bases loaded.”
“It’s tough, when you have the heart of your order up and runners in scoring position, and we place a very high premium on the bunt, and I’m so tempted to do it,” Smith said. “But by the same token, I don’t necessarily want to take the bat out of the kid’s hands. You live by the sword, you die by the sword.”
From there, the Patriots needed only hold on for a couple innings, and of course they managed to do just that.
Smith highlighted a play by Zach Mann in the fifth – Mann leapt a slam-dunk leap to snag a high line drive by Joe Burke out of the air and end Freeport’s ups – as a particularly critical defensive moment: “He took one over the middle,” Smith said. “Left his feet.”
Smith also applauded his outfielders. “[They’ve] been playing solid all year long; we’ve worked very hard on that. They see a ton of fly balls during the week. They know they have one job; you ask them, ‘What’s your job?’ and they say, ‘To catch a fly ball.’”
Ridge remarked on the handful of moments that proved pivotal in the low-scoring loss. “Well, we thought we got out of that inning,” he said of the fifth. “Bases loaded, one out. Wagner did a nice job striking a man out. We rolled the ground ball and unfortunately it took a bad bounce, and we couldn’t make the play.
“But we had got on second base three or four times today; just didn’t get the hit. At one point, Joe Burke hit a hard line drive that the second baseman snared. That was going to be a run. The two ground balls that scored runs for them, one foot either way, those are outs. That’s how baseball is, though.”
Ridge took a moment to laud Wagner. “I thought Shea was the best player on the field today, regardless of team,” Ridge said. “He did it all. He was making extra plays coming off the mound, he ended up being a cutoff at one point and got a guy caught in a run-down. He had the best day at the plate of anyone. And he pitched well enough that he deserves a win.”
Wagner went 2-3 with a single and double. Teammate Bennett Hight went 1-3 with a triple.
Over on the Patriots’ scorecard, Zach Mann, Tanner Mann, Eli Winchester and Villanueva all went 1-3 on a single apiece.
The victory bumped G-NG to 5-7 on the season, and helps keep their playoff hopes alive. The Patriots are now in the midst of a three-game road stretch. The team traveled to York on Monday the 22nd, to Fryeburg two days later and to Waynflete the day after that.
Freeport, meanwhile, slipped to 3-8. The Falcons traveled to Greely on the 24th and hosted Lake Region on the 26th.
Adam Birt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @CurrentSportsME.
Freeporter Max Doughty grabs a high throw at first – but manages to keep his cleat on the bag; meanwhile, G-NG runner Zach Mann dives for safety.
Freeporter Caleb Salter runs down G-NG’s Nick McCann at third.
As usual, John Henry Villanueva pitched well for the Patriots.
Tanner Mann grabs a flyball in the outfield for G-NG.
Jake Winchester, in the outfield for the Patriots, gets under a Freeport fly ball.
G-NG’s Josiah Rottari chases down a ground ball at third.
The Patriots infield gathers on the mound before the start of an inning.