Cheverus baseball, McAuley softball continue to surprise

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As the spring sports season continues to chug along (please see this week’s recap), it’s safe to say that two of best and most unexpected stories of the campaign to date are the baseball team from Cheverus and the McAuley softball squad.

Stags surge

Cheverus began the season in style with a stunning 5-4, come-from-behind home victory over Deering, a triumph which snapped the three-time defending Class A champion Rams’ 50-game win streak. After a 10-5 triumph at Kennebunk and a 6-4 home win over Massabesic, the Stags entered last week at 3-0.

They begin this week 6-0.

That’s because Cheverus rallied to win, 6-3, at Thornton Academy, eked out a 3-2 decision against one of the best pitchers in the league at Marshwood, then cruised to a 10-2 home decision over Noble.

“I’m certainly thrilled by our start,” said Stags second-year coach Mac McKew. “So far, so good. Heading into the season, if you would have told me we’d be 4-2 right now, I’d be happy. I’m very glad we’re 6-0.”

The victory against the Golden Trojans summed up this team. Cheverus lost one of its best hitters, junior Peter Pothoff, to a thumb injury that could sideline him the rest of the season, but rose off the deck, erased a 3-1 deficit and scored the final five runs of the game. Sophomore Louie DiStasio tied the score with a two-run single and the Stags took advantage of Thornton Academy miscues to take and extend the lead. Junior Jack Bushey (who also tripled) earned the win in relief.

Marshwood ace Luke Fernandes was next, but despite striking out 11 times, Cheverus made the most of their four hits, scored twice on an error and got a superb start from senior Kyle Randall, who matched Fernandes pitch for pitch, allowing five hits while going the distance to get the victory.

“Kyle’s a great kid,” McKew said. “He’s won in basketball and understands teamwork. He’s a smart kid with a 4.0 average.”

Against the Knights, DiStasio dominated on the mound, while juniors A.J. Bennett and Joey Royer and senior Tom Webber all had two hits and a pair of RBI.

“I credit our start to good pitching depth,” McKew said. “That was definitely our strength going into the season. I have five guys (Bushey, DiStasio, Randall, Royer and sophomore Harry Ridge) I’m not afraid to throw out there. We have a lot of consistency on offense this year. We have much more of a team effort up and down the lineup.

“Beating Deering in the first game was a confidence boost. Beating Fernandes was more of a confidence booster. We were down at TA and came back. We’ve showed some good intestinal fortitude.”

In a year where Deering has proved mortal and Westbrook has yet to hit its stride, the league is more open than ever. Cheverus was first in the Western A Heal Points standings at the start of the week and hopes to stay there.

“There’s a lot of balance in the league,” said McKew. “I thought it would be the way it’s played out. There are eight playoff spots and probably 12 teams are vying for those spots.”

The Stags were home with Bonny Eagle Tuesday, welcome South Portland Thursday, play at Sanford Friday and play host to Scarborough next Tuesday.

“We have a big week,” said McKew. “Bonny Eagle and South Portland are both solid teams. We won’t pound our chests. We have a lot of energy around us and want to get on the radar screen.”

Lions leave ’em marveling

The McAuley softball team wasn’t even on the radar entering the season. The Lions don’t have much of a pedigree, making the playoffs just seven times in 33 years and posting only four winning records. McAuley averaged under four victories a season the last four years and went 4-12 in 2009.

Robbie Ferrante, the one-time Lions coach who led Portland to the 2004 Class A state championship, returned to the program this spring and has obviously had the Midas touch.

McAuley couldn’t have asked for a more improbable or inspiring win to start the season. Trailing highly touted Cheverus 12-4 entering the bottom of the seventh, the Lions found a way to scratch and claw and score nine times to win.

“That’s really carried us,” said Ferrante. “If it went the other way, who knows? It made us feel good about ourselves.”

McAuley then won 5-0 at Bonny Eagle and eked out a 4-3 home decision over Sanford.

Last week, the Lions began with a hard-fought 4-3 loss at Kennebunk, then pounded visiting Deering (13-1, in five innings) and blanked host Westbrook, 9-0, to improve to 5-1 and eclipse last year’s win total.

“Everything has clicked so far,” said Ferrante. “We’re taking care of business. It’s been past my wildest dreams. Most of the team has stepped up.”

In the one defeat, McAuley didn’t go down easily. Trailing 3-2 in the top of the seventh, one of the Lions’ sparkling freshmen, catcher/shortstop Sam Shildroth, tripled to tie the score. Kennebunk did manage to push across the winning run in the bottom of the inning, but McAuley didn’t hang its head, cruising against Deering (behind home runs from sophomore Shelby Bryant and freshman Gabby Townsend, who also dominated on the mound) and Westbrook (as Townsend threw a three-hit shutout, while freshmen Amber Libby and Molly Mack both had multiple hits).

“The freshmen are stepping up,” Ferrante said. “Three of them, Amber, Gabby and Sam, have played for two summers. The other kids are all players. Shelby is hitting over .500 as the leadoff hitter. Libby and (junior second baseman) Kayla Daigle have hit well. The infield’s very steady. Gabby and (junior) Jen (Field) have pitched well. Gabby’s given up one earned run in three games. They don’t walk many. The schedule’s been in our favor.”

The Lions still have their toughest tests down the road and entered the week hoping to keep winning and build on their ranking (third in the latest Heals). McAuley was home with Windham Monday, plays at Noble Wednesday, hosts Marshwood Friday and visits Gorham Monday. A Thornton Academy-Scarborough-Biddeford stretch looms later in the month, but the Lions have a great chance to post a winning record and make the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

“If we win the games we should, we’ll get in,” Ferrante said. “The Cheverus and Bonny Eagle games will help us with (Heal Points). Once we got to our fourth win, we had to change our goals. Now we want to win at least nine to get in.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.