POLAND – They won’t be the No. 1 seed going into the Class B playoffs, but the Poland Knights will be the hottest Western Maine Conference team, and that’s good enough for them.
Poland clinched a first-round bye in the tournament and delivered a message to the likely No. 1 seed, Greely, with a tense 6-4 win over the Rangers Tuesday.
Winners of eight straight, the Knights (12-4) won the game with a two-out, four-run rally in the fifth highlighted by Brent Cary’s two-run double. Cary then came on in relief of starter Joe Douglass in the sixth to quell a two-run response by the Rangers and keep them from getting any closer.
“I don’t know what it is with this team. It’s like we have more confidence when there are two outs,” Cary said. “We’ve got nothing to lose in that situation.”
The game was tied, 2-2, when Douglass, who reached base four times and scored three runs, started the rally with a two-out double. Tyler Merchant (3-for-4) put the Knights on top with a seeing-eye single past the diving third baseman and shortstop.
After a walk to Jason Lehr, Cary drove Merchant and Lehr home with a two-bagger to left-center and went to third when the center fielder bobbled the ball. Will Griffiths, who had been hit in the ribs by a pitch from Greely starter Paul Valente in his first at-bat, took one in the exact same spot from Valente on his first pitch after the Cary double. Griffiths, who had been warming up to replace Douglass earlier, had to leave the game. Adam Woodbrey then sent Cary home with a bloop single to make it 6-2.
“That kid struck me out twice looking, and it wasn’t going to happen again,” Cary said. “He threw me a fastball and I just went with the pitch. Then Adam came up big with a nice little bloop hit there.”
Greely (14-2) cut the deficit in half in the sixth. Douglass (5 2/3 innings, four runs, two earned) who battled control problems all game (11 walks, two intentional) loaded the bases with two out on an intentional walk. Matt Reade then hit a two-run single to make it 6-4. Douglass’ last walk loaded the bases again and he left the game in favor of Cary, who got Steve Morse to ground into a force out at second, to end the threat.
“I was pretty nervous going into that situation,” said Cary, who was making his first relief appearance of the season. “Will was supposed to be the guy, but he got hit twice in the same spot. Actually, it’s pretty gross.”
The Rangers left the bases loaded three times in the game and stranded 13 total, including the tying runs in the seventh against Cary. Their frustration started in the first inning, when Douglass walked three and gave up a base hit yet kept the visitors off the scoreboard with a caught stealing and a big strikeout of Morse to end the inning.
“I wasn’t getting all the calls that I wanted to. What can you do? You have your ups and your downs,” Douglass said.
“Joe worked hard out there,” Poland coach Dave Jordan said. “He definitely wasn’t as crisp as he’s been in the past, but he’s just a battler. He showed toughness and kept us in the game until our bats woke up.”
Lehr drove in Douglass for Poland’s first two runs with a single in the first and a sacrifice fly in the second. Greely got on the board on Sam Green’s RBI triple in the second and tied the game on Valente’s run-scoring single in the fourth.
“We’ve split the season with everyone we’ve lost to now,” Jordan said. “So we can compete with anybody if we play our game.”
“Anyone’s got to feel good winning eight in a row,” Douglass said. “We’re just going to try to keep it going into the playoffs.”