2017-03-21 / Sports

Freeport baseball back at it

Pitchers and catchers report this week
BY CHRISTIAN SANDLER
Times Record Staff


FREEPORT HIGH SCHOOL baseball coach Bill Ridge talks to his pitchers and catchers during the first practice of the spring season on Monday afternoon. The Falcons will begin the campaign on April 21 against Lake Region. 
CHRISTIAN SANDLER / THE TIMES RECORD FREEPORT HIGH SCHOOL baseball coach Bill Ridge talks to his pitchers and catchers during the first practice of the spring season on Monday afternoon. The Falcons will begin the campaign on April 21 against Lake Region. CHRISTIAN SANDLER / THE TIMES RECORD FREEPORT

If the Freeport High School baseball team wants to make another magical postseason run in 2017, it’ll have to start this week on the basketball court.

For the first time in school history, the Falcons will be starting a campaign as Class B South regional champions.

On Monday after school, pitchers and catchers were loosening their arms and chatting while tossing the ball off the gym wall. With plenty of new faces and some key pieces no longer on the team, another run to the title game seems far off.

But that’s exactly why, as coach Bill Ridge said, Freeport isn’t setting lofty expectations. For those, you’re better off asking the opposition.


FREEPORT PITCHER Heath Cockburn tosses during warm-ups. 
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FREEPORT PITCHER Heath Cockburn tosses during warm-ups. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS “Our expectation is success,” Ridge said. “We believe we should be able to go out and compete with teams. Playoffs is always kind of that first goal that we set. We expect ourselves to give ourselves a chance to do that. Really, that’s it. We want to get in. Last year we showed we just want to get in and see what happens.”

“Our focus really is to just win games,” Freeport pitcher Josh Burke said. “Just take it a game at a time. Don’t think too much in the future — just think in the present.”

Turnover

Burke is one of a few seniors that will be called upon to step up this season. On top of ace Jack Davenport and starter Caleb Rice, three other seniors moved on and, to Ridge’s surprise, numbers are down a bit this year. Five freshmen and four sophomores have joined the program.

There will be a few holes all over the field, but especially on the mound.

“We had a strong senior class last year,” Ridge said. “On the mound, especially. We’ve got two relievers in (Austin) Langley and (Josh) Spaulding. They were a great one-two punch for us throughout that run. But other than that, we have to have some young guys step up.”

In fact, what those seniors brought on the field might not even be what the Falcons miss most. In a preseason meeting last week, Ridge and the players discussed the leadership they left behind. Along with getting in shape for the upcoming season, these first few weeks will allow the new leaders to take over.

“They were really big leaders in the team last year,” Burke said of the graduated seniors. “They helped us build our chemistry and go on the run we had last year. I’m feeling just as confident that our seniors will step up like the others did last year.”

“This is a team in need of some leadership,” Ridge said. “The leadership that we lost with the senior class is the biggest thing. We had guys that did it on the field, guys that did it vocally in the dugout – guys that led by example, did the right thing. There’s a big void there with leadership.”

Back to work

As far as the pitching staff goes, the lead role that Davenport left behind is Burke’s to take. While it might not be possible to fully replace an All-Western Maine Conference player and one of the best pitchers in the state like Davenport, Burke was right there next to him during the improbable run.

He led the Falcons to a pair of postseason victories over Morse (5-2) and Greely (1-0) before taking the hill against Old Town in the state championship game. He also happens to be the starting quarterback on the Freeport football team.

“I feel like I’m ready for that kind of role,” Burke said. “I feel like I’m ready for the challenge. I’m ready for high school varsity ball. I did it last year and I can just go back to what I did last year — keep doing my thing.”

“Were hoping. That’s the goal with him right now,” Ridge said of Burke. “I think it’s something that he wants to do. He had a pretty good football season this year — he was the leader of that team. I think, mentally, it’s fine. He’s OK with the idea of having to be the guy, the bulldog out there for us.”

For now, he’ll be in throwing progressions and warmups with the rest of the staff. The Falcons will try and work around the snow and get outside this week, but part of the season prep is conditioning — the weight room will surely be busy.

On one hand, being indoors limits what the players can do. With the lacrosse and softball teams also on the schedule, Ridge has to focus on some little things.

“It’s good this week getting some routines down,” Ridge said. “Getting guys on the same page so next week, when we have to start splitting the gym, we’ve got leaders in both groups already established. Getting the arms ready, it’s a huge thing.”

On the other hand, it’s nice to ease into a full practice load.

“There might be some kids a little bit rusty,” Burke said. “Kind of like myself. It’s kind of good that there’s snow because we don’t have to go right to the field and do everything. We can start with the basic mechanics and warm up our arms and everything.”

With a few weeks of practice and a little chemistry building, Freeport might just be ready for another special year.

“I would like to get back to where we were,” Burke said. “I think that goal’s going to be tough, I really think we can do it. I just want to make another run like we did last year. I think that’d be fun.”

The Falcons begin their season on April 21 at Lake Region, 11 a.m.

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