Nothing lasts forever.
But for the Deering Rams baseball team, it wasn’t supposed to end this way.
When Cheverus junior Peter Potthoff scrambled home from third base on a passed ball with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, he accomplished far more than just scoring the winning run.
The Stags had just done what no other team had been able to for three consecutive seasons, defeating Deering, 5-4, on Saturday and ending one of most memorable streaks in the history of Maine baseball.
Deering, the three-time reigning Class A state champions, had won 50-straight games, including back-to-back undefeated titles dating all the way back to May 10, 2007 (a 3-2 setback to Biddeford).
It’s not the end of the world. It’s not even the end of April, but the Rams walked off the diamond on the wrong side of the scoreboard for the first time in nearly three complete seasons on the simplest of exchanges.
After the Stags rallied to tie the score in the bottom of the sixth, Potthoff dashed home on a passed ball and beat the relay with a headfirst slide to lift Cheverus to the improbable victory at MacDonald Field in the season-opener for both teams.
Trailing 4-2 to begin the home half of the fifth inning, Cheverus scored single runs in each of the final three frames on passed balls, tying the game at 4-4 in the sixth when sophomore Spencer Cooke did precisely what classmate Nick Melville had done in the fifth and raced home from third on a passed ball to set the table for Potthoff’s heroics.
“We took an ugly approach to winning the game,” said Cheverus coach Mac McKew. “But you have to get to third base to score on a passed ball. There is no question this was big for us. Deering has won the last three state titles, so there is that whole aura about them. They have some good young players over there. They’re still highly regarded, but they know as well as we do that it’s a whole different team over there. What I was most happy about is that we kept battling. We were able to come back and tie the game twice. That was the best part.”
Cheverus trailed by two runs twice in this one, failing behind 2-0 after the first inning but battled back to eventually outlast junior Jamie Ross, the ace of the Deering staff. Ross, a tall, hard-throwing righty, struck out seven and limited the Stags to just four hits over six complete innings.
In the seventh, with a pair of lefties due up for the Stags, Ross was lifted by second-year coach Mike Coutts in favor of lefthanded junior Sam Balzano.
Potthoff, who had scorched a pair of deep drives to center in previous at-bats, his second a ringing double to the hill in center, reached on an infield error when his softly hit grounder to short was misplayed to begin the home half of the seventh.
Cheverus junior catcher Nic Lops, a lefthanded hitter, followed and dropped a bunt toward the third base line that was fielded by the speedy Balzano. With no one covering second, Balzano was forced to take the out at first while Potthoff easily moved into scoring position.
“I just wanted to do whatever it took to help my team win the game,” said Lops. “Coach called timeout and called me over to see if I wanted to bunt or hit away. I was actually bunting for a base hit but it didn’t turn out that way.”
Junior Jack Bushey followed with a towering fly to left-center for the second out that advanced Potthoff over to third on the sacrifice.
Joe Falconieri, one of only three seniors on the Stags, strode to the plate but would never need his bat. Balzano’s first pitched skipped by the catcher and Potthoff rambled home to score in a cloud of dust, stinging a Deering faithful not accustomed to losing baseball games.
“This is definitely a great win for us,” said Lops. “It was a lot of fun out there. Runs are runs and wins are wins. That’s how it goes down in the book. We battled back twice and that’s what we’ll remember.”
Deering looked to be on its way to consecutive win No. 51 after scoring a pair of runs in the top of the first inning off Cheverus junior ace Joey Royer. Balzano, who led the league in steals and runs scored a year ago, started the game off with an infield single. He moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, stole third cleanly and scored on an RBI double by Ross. Junior Nick DiBiase knocked in Ross with a single for the first of his two RBI on the day.
Royer, a lefthander, threw 109 pitches over 5 2/3 innings, scattering eight hits to go with three strikeouts and four walks in his season debut. Royer was relieved by Bushey in the sixth with two runners on after walking Balzano on four pitches. Bushey induced a routine ground ball to end the threat and pitched a scoreless seventh to earn the win.
The Stags came right back to tie the score 2-2 in the bottom of the second inning on a passed ball and a sacrifice fly after loading the bases. Royer singled to get things started. The designated hitter, senior Tom Webber, was hit by a pitch, and Ross issued a walk to Falconieri. Royer scored the first of four Cheverus runs on a passed ball that allowed Webber to move up to third.
Senior Kyle Randall plated Webber with a sacrifice fly to tie things up for the first time.
In the top of the third, it was Rams’ turn to tack on another pair of runs and take a 4-2 lead that would stand until the bottom of the fifth. Balzano walked and went to second on senior Travis Wade’s hard hit single to left field.
The Deering shortstop, junior Nick Colucci, walked to load the bases, and Ross did the same to force home Balzano for his second RBI of the game. DiBiase brought home Wade with a fielder’s choice RBI groundout to Cheverus shortstop Louis DiStacio to allow the Rams to retake a two-run lead.
The Stags crawled back with single runs in the fifth and sixth innings on passed balls. In the fifth, Melville was hit by a pitch, went to third on a towering double to the hill in center by Potthoff, and came in the backdoor to make it 4-3.
In the sixth, sophomore Harry Ridge popped to the edge of the infield grass in front of second base for a single. Cooke checked in as his pinch runner and went to third on a single by Randall before he too scampered home on a passed ball.
Pothoff then won it in the seventh.
“We had plenty of opportunities to win that game, even before we got into the sixth and the seventh,” said Coutts. “We had leads. We didn’t extend leads and we let Cheverus hang around. We didn’t execute some things in the game that we work on and do perfectly every day in practice. Like I told the team, we’re never happy when we lose a game. But at the same time, we kind of got that monkey off our back. It’s not the end of the world. How we respond and come back is more important to me. We have a whole lot of baseball to go. And this doesn’t change what our goal is or prevent us from getting there.”
Cheverus looked to keep rolling Tuesday at Kennebunk, before returning home on Thursday to face the Massabesic Mustangs.
Deering welcomed Noble to Hadlock Field Tuesday and travels to Marshwood Thursday.
Deering junior Jamie Ross fires a pitch during Saturday’s showdown.
Cheverus junior Peter Pothoff beats a throw to first as Deering first baseman Travis Wade takes the throw.
Cheverus junior Jack Bushey throws a pitch during a relief stint Saturday. Bushey earned the victory.
Cheverus sophomore Nick Melville plants a tag on Deering’s Devon Fitzgerald on an attempted steal. Fitzgerald was called out.
Cheverus junior Peter Pothoff dives home with the winning run Saturday as the Stags ended three-time Class A defending state champion Deering’s 50-game unbeaten streak, 5-4.
More photos below.