By Lloyd Jones
FRYEBURG — "I'm still not sure it happened."
That's what Fryeburg Academy softball coach Fred Apt said Wednesday morning after his team rallied from from a three-run deficit in the seventh inning to beat top ranked Wells 6-5 in the Class B South Regional Final at St. Joseph's College in Standish, Maine, on Tuesday night.
"I've never been involved in a comeback like that in the seventh inning on either side," Apt said. "Chole (Coen) said she didn't want the season to end yet — I'm good with that."
"It was like you were just numb and you kept waiting for (the comeback) to happen," said Chis Dutton, Raiders' assistant coach. "It was pretty incredible. Something I'll never forget."
After the top ranked Warriors scored five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to take a 5-2 lead, the Raiders went quickly one-two-three in the sixth inning. It looked like this just might not be the third seeded girls from Fryeburg's night.
The Raiders, who handed Wells its only loss during the regular season, winning 4-3 in Fryeburg on May 9, had just two hits heading into the seventh inning as pitcher Anya Chase was dealing. Trailing 5-2, Apt's troops never gave up.
"The good thing was we had Nicole (Bennett) and Makayla (Cooper) leading off," Dutton said. "I thought if we could just get those two on, who knows, something could happen."
Bennett opened the seventh with a base hit. Fellow senior Ali Fraize came on to pinch run for her. Fraize went to second on a wild pitch and scored when Cooper singled to second, cutting the deficit to 5-3.
Kaylee Emery followed with a single to right-center, but Cooper was thrown out by a step at third base. Emery went to second on the play and scored when Paige O'Connell singled sharply up the middle to bring Fryeburg to within a run at 5-4.
After Brooke Juneau beat out an infield hit to put runners on third and first, Jade Currier-Graffam pinch ran for her and went to second on a successful steal. That brought Coen to the plate. She laced a line drive, two-run single, down the left-field line to give the Raiders a 6-5 lead and an incredible comeback.
"One of my favorite moments of the season came when Jade scored the go-ahead run, then ran and jumped into the arms of Nicole, who was in the on-deck circle," Dutton said. "Here was a freshman and a senior sharing the moment, that's what makes this team special."
Apt and Dutton did away with grades at the start of the season during the team's annual trip to Connecticut.
"I told them, there are no more seniors, junior, sophomores and freshmen," Apt said, "you're just Fryeburg softball players, you're a team. Dutty is right, this is a special group. We have a great mix of kids, who truly like each other. I've never kept 16 kids on the varsity. I said at the start, 'Fred, you're asking for trouble keeping this many,' but it's worked out great."
The Warriors didn't go quietly in their half of the seventh inning. They actually got the winning run to second base. A Warrior reached on an error to start the inning. Fryeburg got two quick outs on ground balls back to Bennett on the mound, but a base hit put runners at first and third.
Apt allowed the runner on first to steal second base uncontested, putting the winning run 120 feet away.
"I didn't want to risk throwing the ball away," Apt said.
Apt went to the mound, talked with his pitcher (Bennett) and catcher (Cooper).
"Coop calls most of the pitches, but I told her if we're going to get beat, let it be on Nicole's best pitch," he said.
The No. 7 hitter for the Warriors worked the count to 3-2, fouled off two consecutive pitches and then was caught looking on a fastball by Bennett that went over the inside part of the plate for a called strike three. The Raiders stormed the field and the celebration began.
Fryeburg (16-3) is in the state championship for the first time since 2012. The Raiders will play Old Town (17-2) in the finals at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at St. Joseph's.
This year's team is Nicole Bennett, Breanna Burnell, Mackenzie Buzzell, Emily Carty, Chloe Coen, Caroline Condon, Grace Condon, Makayla Cooper, Jade Currier-Graffam, Maddie Darling, Kaylee Emery, Ali Fraize, Brooke Juneau, Kristina LeBlanc, Madison McIntyre and Paige O'Connell.
Old Town, the No. 2 seed in the North, punched its ticket to the finals by beating No. 4 seed Oceanside 1-0 in eight innings in the Class B North Final in Brewer, Maine, on Tuesday night.
"They're a good team," Dutton said, sharing some of his early scouting report. "They have a very good pitcher (McKenna Smith, a junior), who throws hard. I think she has something like 130 strikeouts in 61 innings. We like fast pitching. Old Town likes to play small ball, manufacturing runs."
"They'll be good," Apt said. "It to be a great game."