Cheverus comes up one run short in regional final loss to Gorham

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Gorham junior second baseman Will Prescott forces Cheverus junior Jack Mullen during the Rams’ 3-2 victory in Tuesday’s Class A South Final. The Stags’ 10-game win streak came to an end while Gorham advanced to meet Bangor in Saturday’s state final.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Gorham 3 Cheverus 2

C- 000 002 0- 2 4 0
G-002 010 x- 3 6 0

Bottom 3rd
Roop doubled to left, Drew and Nelson scored.

Bottom 5th
Loubier doubled to left, McDonald scored.

Top 6th
Ray singled to left, Watson scored. O’Donnell singled to left, Ray scored.

Repeat hitter:
G- Drew

Runs:
C- Ray, Watson
G- Drew, McDonald, Nelson

RBI:
C- O’Donnell, Ray
G- Roop 2, Loubier

Double:
G- Roop

Stolen base:
G- Nelson

Left on base:
C- 4
G- 9

MacDonald, Ray (5) and Watson; Norris and McDonald.

C:
MacDonald (L, 3-3) 4.2 IP 5 H 3 R 3 ER 4 BB 2 K 2 HBP 1 WP
Ray 1.1 IP 1 H 0 R 0 BB 1 K 

G:
Norris (W, 6-0) 7 IP 4 H 2 R 2 ER 0 BB 1 K 2 HBP

Time: 1:29

STANDISH—Everything has gone the way of Cheverus’ baseball team the past month, so even though the fourth-ranked Stags fell behind second-seeded Gorham, 3-0, in Tuesday evening’s Class A South Final at the Larry Mahaney Diamond, on the campus of St. Joseph’s College, there was a feeling that a comeback was inevitable.

And it almost happened, but ultimately Cheverus’ spirited run fell just a run short.

The Stags, three days removed from one of the most inspirational victories in program history, a come-from-behind win over Falmouth in the semifinals, got a strong effort from senior starting pitcher Conner MacDonald, but couldn’t solve Rams senior starter Ryan Norris in the early going and Gorham grabbed a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third, when senior leftfielder Lucas Roop hit a clutch two-out, two-run double.

A two-out, RBI double from junior designated hitter Trevor Loubier in the bottom of the fifth put Gorham up three, but Cheverus would come to life in the top of the sixth.

After an infield single and a hit batsman, junior shortstop Justin Ray singled in senior catcher Griffin Watson and with two down, junior designated hitter Hayden O’Donnell singled in another run, but on the play, the potential tying run was thrown out at third base, keeping the Rams on top, 3-2.

The Stags had one final chance in the seventh, but Norris ended the game by retiring Cheverus in order and Gorham was able to celebrate the regional championship.

The Rams improved to 15-4, won Class A South for the first time, advanced to the state final for the first time in any class since capturing the 2005 Class B title, ended the Stags’ 10-game win streak and their season at 13-6 and in the process, advanced to meet four-time defending champion Bangor (18-1) in the state final Saturday at 1 p.m., in Standish.

“We came back a few times this year and the guys knew that, but we just fell a run short today,” said Cheverus coach Mac McKew.

“It’s great for the kids,” said Gorham coach Chuck Nadeau. “A lot of these seniors have been with me for three or four years and each year, we got a little bit closer. To see these guys get over the hump and play for a state championship, it’s a big thrill for me.” 

Sanity prevails

After one of the most balanced regular seasons in league history, consensus held that the Class A South playoffs might feature an abundance of upsets, but other than No. 9 Falmouth stunning top-ranked South Portland in the quarterfinals, chalk more or less held, as the No. 2 and No. 4 seeds wound up the last teams standing.

Cheverus started 1-4 and 3-5 and looked like anything but a title contender at the midway point, but the Stags entered play Tuesday having not lost since May 12. In the quarterfinals, Cheverus pulled away late to eliminate No. 12 Deering, 11-1, in five-innings and Saturday, in the semifinals, the Stags walked off and beat Falmouth, 5-4, when junior Andrew DeGeorge hit a dramatic two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the seventh.

Gorham, meanwhile, went 12-4, losing only to Biddeford, South Portland, Deering and Sanford and closing on a seven-game win streak. In the quarterfinals, Gorham advanced by virtue of a 3-1 victory over No. 6 Thornton Academy and Saturday, in the semifinals, the Rams took advantage of seven Portland errors and downed the third-ranked Bulldogs in a wild one, 9-6.

Gorham won at Cheverus, 5-2, back on April 20, in a game which saw the Stags make four errors and muster just three hits.

The Stags beat the Rams, 5-1, in last year’s semifinal round in the only prior playoff encounter.

Tuesday evening, under very pleasant 78 degree skies, in front of a big crowd, Gorham returned the favor.

Norris was solid in the top of the first, getting Watson to chase strike three, senior centerfielder Cam Dube to fly to center and Ray to ground out sharply to shortstop.

In the bottom half, senior shortstop Ben Nelson led off with a deep fly out to left and senior third baseman Kyle King grounded out to second. MacDonald then hit senior catcher Brogan McDonald with a pitch, but Roop popped out to short to end it.

Norris hit senior designated hitter St. John leading off the top of the second, but Cheverus ran into some bad luck as it hit the ball hard, only to have nothing to show for it. DeGeorge, the first baseman, lined hard to center. O’Donnell then lined to right and sophomore third baseman Chris Cimino lined to left.

MacDonald needed just five pitches to get out of the bottom of the frame, getting senior centerfielder Nolan Brown to chase the first pitch and ground to short, Loubier to chase the first pitch and ground to third and fanning junior first baseman Trevor Gray on three pitches.

Cheverus had its first good scoring opportunity in the top of the third, as junior leftfielder Nathaniel Lapoint led off with an infield single which got past Norris. Junior second baseman Tanner LaFlamme sacrificed Lapoint to second, but Watson lined sharply to center on the first pitch and Dube grounded back to the mound to end it.

In the bottom half, the Rams broke through.

After senior second baseman Will Prescott led off and grounded out to second on the first pitch, senior rightfielder David Drew beat out an infield single to the hole. Nelson walked and King singled to load the bases. When MacDonald got McDonald to pop out foul behind the plate to Watson, who made a terrific play on a tough ball, it appeared the Stags might escape, but Roop lined a double down the leftfield line to score Drew and Nelson for a 2-0 lead.

“That was a huge hit,’ Nadeau said. “(Lucas has) been swinging the bat well. He’s experienced and competitive. I’m happy for his success.”

Brown drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch to reload the bases, but MacDonald escaped further trouble by getting Loubier to ground out to short.

In the top of the fourth, Gorham flashed the leather, as Prescott got to a slow chopper from Ray just in time to throw him out, Prescott went to his right to make a nice play on a ground ball off the bat of St. John and King got to DeGeorge’s sharp grounder to throw him out and retire the side.

Gray got things started in the bottom half with a single to left. Prescott sacrificed Gray up to second, but Drew chased strike three and after MacDonald wild pitched Gray to third and Nelson walked and stole second, King fouled out to Cimino at third to end the threat.

In the top of the fifth, O’Donnell led off with a fly ball to right, but Cimino grounded Cheverus’ second hit of the game, a single, into right. He didn’t advance, however, as Lapoint flew out to right and LaFlamme hit a fly ball to center.

The Rams scored again in the bottom half.

McDonald led off with a walk, but Roop flied out to center and Brown popped foul to first. Loubier then came up with the key two-out knock, driving the ball to deep left for a double and McDonald motored around to make it 3-0. After MacDonald hit Gray, he was replaced by Ray, who ended the frame by getting Prescott to chase strike three.

Watson sparked a comeback when he led off the top of the sixth by beating out a grounder to third. After Norris hit Dube with a pitch, Ray chopped the ball toward shortstop where it bounced past Nelson and into center for an RBI single, cutting the deficit to 3-1, putting runners at first and second. St. John then grounded sharply back to the mound and Norris elected to throw to third for the force out and the first out of the inning. That brought up DeGeorge, who grounded into a short-to-second force out. O’Donnell then fell behind 0-2 before lining a single past Prescott. Ray scored easily, but DeGeorge was thrown out trying to take third, ending the inning with the score still 3-2 Gorham.

“(Andrew) had his head down and was just pumping,” McKew said. “It was just adrenaline. He’s that type of kid, an adrenaline junkie. We’re not here without him though.” 

“I was getting a little frustrated (that inning), but it all comes down to mental toughness and making sure you’re focused and doing what you’re supposed to do,” said Norris.

In the bottom of the sixth, Drew led off by lining a single down the rightfield line. Nelson sacrificed him to second and he went to third when King grounded the ball up the middle and MacDonald, making a terrific play going to his right, fielded the ball and threw him out. That left it up to McDonald, who popped to Ray behind the mound. Ray caught the ball and fell down, but held on to send the contest to the seventh.

Cimino led off and got ahead 2-1, then grounded out to Prescott at second. Lapoint tried to get something started, but popped out to second and on the first pitch, LaFlamme brought an end to the 89-minute affair by grounding out to short and Gorham celebrated its 3-2 victory and its first-ever Class A South title.

“It feels fantastic,” Norris said. “We all did our job today. Against TA (in the quarterfinals), I wasn’t able to close it out. Today, I was able to do it and it felt really good.”

“We knew how hot (the Stags) were, but also how well they hit and defend and how well-coached they are,” Nadeau said. “When you’re consistent, you win a lot of games and that’s what they’ve done. We knew we had to play clean, get a big hit or two and Ryan would have to pitch well and we had a night where that happened.”

Drew was the game’s lone repeat hitter and scored a run, as did McDonald and Nelson. Roop had two RBI and Loubier drove in a run as well. All three RBI came with two outs.

Gorham stranded nine runners, but it didn’t matter.

Norris was solid, if not overpowering, as he improved to 6-0. He went the distance and allowed just two runs on four hits, striking out one batter, walking none and hitting two.

“The first eight games of the season, I hadn’t played much, then I found my groove and pitched consistently,” Norris said. “I didn’t pitch junior year, but worked hard in the offseason. I’m not really nervous when I’m pitching. I get into a zone and once I do, I try to hit my spots and let my defense do the rest.”

“We knew we had a lot of experienced guys back this year, but what we didn’t know we had was consistent pitching,” Nadeau said. “Ryan was a JV pitcher last year. What he’s done for us to stabilize our pitching staff is incredible. He competes and doesn’t overpower people. When he’s on the mound, we’re confident.”

“(Norris) mixed up his pitches and he got our timing off,” said McKew. “We hit a few balls at people. We tried to make some adjustments, but didn’t quite get it done.” 

One win away

Gorham has never won a Class A championship (the Rams did win Class B titles in 1998 and 2005) and will have that opportunity Saturday with a mighty big obstacle standing in the way.

Bangor has won the past four titles and Tuesday, in its regional final, beat Oxford Hills, 5-1, on a walk-off grand slam.

Gorham plans to do whatever it takes to win the Battle of the Rams.

“We just have to hit the ball,” said Norris, who is eligible to return to the hill Saturday. “If I’m on the mound, I know I’ll do my job and I’ll let my defense do its job. I’d love to pitch again.”

“I played for (Bangor) and the interesting thing is David Morse, their coach, was my catcher,” said Nadeau. “We’ll probably chat this week and have some fun with it. We have a lot of respect for them. They obviously do things right. They’ll bring an athletic, competitive group. We’ll focus on what we do and if we play clean, we can be a really tough team to beat.”

Not quite enough

Cheverus got runs scored from Ray and Watson and RBI from O’Donnell and Ray.

The Stags stranded four runners.

MacDonald fell to 3-3 after giving up three runs on five hits in 4.2 innings. He walked four, hit two, struck out two and threw a wild pitch. 

“MacDonald was gusty,” McKew said. “That’s the shortest rest he’s had. He threw 78 pitches against Deering Thursday. He’s a competitor. This is the playoffs. It’s a whole different mindset. Sixty pitches is like 80 pitches because of the stress.”

Ray didn’t allow a run in his 1.1-inning relief stint. He gave up one hit and struck out one.

Cheverus rose from a 1-4 start to the cusp of a regional title in a year that no one thought it was possible.

“It’s been awesome,” McKew said. “We didn’t get the final prize, but it’s been a great year for these guys. It was quite a run and a valiant effort. One thing about this team is that we didn’t quit. We didn’t quit all season. We weren’t really on anyone’s radar and we started 1-4 and we proved why we weren’t on the radar. All of a sudden, we got on the radar by winning 12 of 13 and the win over Falmouth was fabulous. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. I’ve coached 10 years and this team, by far, showed the most guts by bouncing back.”

Cheverus has to part with Dube, MacDonald, St. John, Watson and reserves Jackson Humphrey and Tyler Turner. 

“The seniors got here twice,” McKew said. “Griffin Watson is one of the best players I’ve had in my 10 years here. Cam Dube was a solid outfielder for three years with the varsity. Great kid, hard worker. We had Maxx for two years and he was an RBI machine. Conner was significant. He was number three last year and this year, he was solid and showed his guts.”

The Stags might be starting from a stronger place in 2019 and could find their way back on the big stage again if all goes well.

“We have a lot of juniors and this year’s junior class is strong,” McKew said. “(Jack) Mullen and Ray are coming back to pitch. We have to settle our catching situation and we’ll compete again. I just want to be in the hunt.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Cheverus senior starter Conner MacDonald goes into his delivery.

Cheverus sophomore third baseman Chris Cimino lunges in vain for the ball.

Cheverus junior shortstop Justin Ray scoops up a ground ball.

Cheverus junior first baseman Andrew DeGeorge catches a pop fly.

Cheverus senior Griffin Watson, right, is congratulated by senior Maxx St. John after scoring the Stags’ first run.

Gorham rushes the field to celebrate its first regional title in 13 seasons.

Cheverus junior Justin Ray, left, senior Cam Dube and senior Griff Watson receive the runner-up trophy.

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