Ever since their epic and improbable regular season opener back on April 24, the Cheverus and McAuley softball teams have stolen their share of headlines.
Now, the Stags and Lions turn their attention to making a run in the Western Class A playoffs.
Cheverus wound up fourth in the region after a 12-4 regular season and has a chance to avenge one of its defeats when it hosts No. 5 Thornton Academy Thursday (3:30 p.m.) in the quarterfinals.
Just a few short miles away, McAuley, coming off the best regular season in program history, takes its 11-5 record and No. 7 ranking to No. 2 South Portland (Thursday, 4 p.m.) as the Lions seek just their second-ever postseason win.
Deering (6-10) and Portland (1-15) fell short of the playoffs this spring.
Two to watch
Cheverus entered the 2010 campaign as one of the favorites, but after blowing an eight-run, seventh inning lead in a 13-12 loss at McAuley and falling, 3-2, at Kennebunk, the Stags were at a crossroads. They turned it around in mighty fashion, however, thanks to the dominant pitching of senior Theresa Hendrix and a potent offense, keyed by Hendrix and senior Audrey Grinnell to the tune of 11 wins in their final 13 games to wind up 12-4 and fourth in the region.
“Overall I’m very proud of our team this year,” said Cheverus coach Amy McMullin. “We started out a little shaky, but that made us come together as a team for the rest of the year. We got a few wins under our belts and things finally started to come together. I’m proud of how we finished the regular season with the win over Scarborough and the strong offensive outing against South Portland (a 10-6 loss).”
The Stags lost a back-and-forth 9-8 affair at Thornton Academy back on May 17 (the game ended with the tying run on third base). They’re eager to face the Golden Trojans (12-4) again in the first ever playoff meeting between the schools.
“If we come with our heads in it, then we are going to be very tough to beat,” McMullin said. “We control our own destiny. If we want it bad enough, then we know we can do it. Our seven seniors are all such great leaders and key members of our team that I feel great going into playoffs. I’m confident in the girls and am very excited for this time of year. Nothing is better than playoffs!”
If Cheverus makes it to the semifinals for the first time, it would almost certainly have a showdown with top-ranked Scarborough Saturday. The defending Class A state champion Red Storm went 15-1 this spring, with the one loss coming May 25, a 5-1 home defeat by the Stags. Two years ago, in the lone previous playoff meeting, Scarborough beat Cheverus, 3-0, in the quarterfinals.
McAuley rode the momentum of its win over Cheverus to a 10-1 start as new coach Robbie Ferrante got his young core to believe, compete and win. The Lions struggled down the stretch against the top teams, going just 1-4, but the 11-5 record bettered the 10-win teams of 1995, 2003 and 2004 to set a new program mark.
“The girls feel good about themselves,” Ferrante said. “We felt really good after the Cheverus game and started to believe. Then, the school started supporting the team, which helped.”
McAuley closed the regular season with a 5-2 loss at South Portland last Wednesday and pays a return visit to the 15-1 Red Riots Thursday in the quarterfinals. The teams have no playoff history.
“We gave them three first inning runs the other day and it ended up 5-2,” Ferrante said. “We just can’t give them four outs in an inning. I’d like to score first and put some pressure on them. They’re experienced and have a lot of confidence. We’ll have to play our ‘A’ game. It’s a great experience. We’ll enjoy the moment.”
If the Lions are able to spring an upset, they’ll go to either No. 3 Kennebunk (13-3) or No. 6 Biddeford (11-5) in Saturday’s semifinal round. McAuley dropped close decisions to each team in the regular season, falling, 4-3, at the Rams on May 3 and 8-6 at Biddeford May 26. The Lions haven’t faced either potential foe in prior postseasons.
Looking ahead, the Western A Final is Tuesday of next week. The game will be played at St. Joseph’s College in Standish, beginning at 3:30 p.m. The Class A state game is Saturday, June 19, also at St. Joe’s. Start time is 4 p.m.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com