Deering stymied by Westbrook in baseball showdown
PORTLAND—The Deering baseball team entered Saturday afternoon's showdown with preseason favorite Westbrook looking to show the Blue Blazes and the rest of the league that the road to the championship will once again go through the purple and white.
Instead, the Rams learned they have some work to do and that the Blue Blazes are the team to beat.
Westbrook, behind its senior University of Maine-bound ace pitcher Scott Heath, dominated Deering from the get-go, scoring twice in the first inning, adding three more runs in the second and going on to a 6-0 victory, cementing its status as the leader of the pack.
Heath didn't allow a hit until the sixth inning, still hasn't surrendered a run in 2011 and helped pace the early offensive onslaught that lifted the Blue Blazes to 11-0, dropping the Rams to 9-2 in the process.
"We came out and made some mistakes in the first couple innings," lamented Deering's first-year coach Mark Sutton. "Once you get behind against Scott Heath, it's very, very tough to come back. (The Blue Blazes) hit the ball well and played great defense."
Westbrook has been a title hopeful the past few seasons thanks to its core of players who made it to the Little League World Series in 2005. Last year, the Blue Blazes beat Deering, 9-6, in the regular season, then ended the Rams' three-year championship run with a palpitating 7-6 semifinal round playoff victory before being upset by Biddeford in the regional final.
So far in 2011, Westbrook passed every test, most with ease, as it downed the first 10 foes on the slate.
The Rams, meanwhile, under new coach Mark Sutton, opened with a 4-3 victory at South Portland then lost, 4-3, at Biddeford. Since then, prior to Saturday, Deering had rattled off eight successive wins, scoring 18, 22, 11 (an 11-0 win over crosstown rival Portland), 11 and 12 runs in the five most recent wins.
Saturday, the Rams ran into a buzzsaw and saw their losing skid against the Blue Blazes reach three.
With one out in the top of the first, freshman catcher Kyle Heath singled up the middle off Deering junior starter Nick DiBiase. After a wild pitch moved the runner up a base, Scott Heath pounded a double to right-center to give Westbrook the lead. Senior second baseman Zach Collett followed with a single to left and the Blue Blazes had a quick 2-0 advantage.
"The Heath brothers came up big and Collett had a big hit in that inning," said Westbrook coach Mike Rutherford, who had a long stint at Portland High before taking over the Blue Blazes. "We did what we had to do."
In the bottom half, Rams senior second baseman Matt Bevilacqua drew a one-out walk, but Heath picked him off, then induced a ground out to short off the bat of senior shortstop Nick Colucci.
In the second, senior third baseman Jake Gardiner walked to start the inning and one out later, sophomore first baseman Sam Stauble singled to center. When senior centerfielder Sam Balzano bobbled the ball, Gardiner raced all the way home. With two down, Stauble stole second. Kyle Heath then ripped an RBI double to deep right and Scott Heath followed with an RBI double just over the head of Deering senior third baseman John Hannigan, making it 5-0.
After Heath set the Rams down in order in the bottom half, the visitors threatened to extend their lead in the top of the third, but after senior designated hitter Sean Murphy was hit by a pitch and senior shortstop Zach Gardiner reached when senior leftfielder Jamie Ross dropped a line drive, DiBiase fanned Jake Gardiner and senior leftfielder Trevor Bates before getting Stauble t0 fly out to center.
Deering went quietly in the bottom of the third, as Heath fanned junior first baseman Jamie Gullbrand looking and senior rightfielder John Hardy swinging for two of his three strikeouts.
The Blue Blazes added to their lead in the fourth as junior centerfielder Joe Quinlan led off with a single to center, Kyle Heath sacrificed him to second and he moved to third when Scott Heath bounced out to the mound. Then, Quinlan took off for home and stole it cleanly, leaving the Rams shocked and confused, making the score 6-0.
"It was one of those things where Mike made a nice call and Nick wasn't paying attention," Sutton said. "That's my fault. I should have seen that."
The hosts almost got their first hit in the bottom of the fourth as Balzano appeared to beat out a grounder to second, but he was called out at first. Bevilacqua then tapped back to the mound and Colucci grounded out to short.
In the top of the fifth, Murphy singled leading off and Bates doubled midway off the big leftfield wall with two outs, but Stauble stranded the runners by bouncing out to the mound.
In the bottom half, with one down, DiBiase appeared to beat out a high chopper to first, but Stauble's throw to Heath was controversially ruled in time for the out. Senior catcher John Miranda then grounded back to the mound and Heath had a no-hitter through five.
A diving catch by Balzano highlighted a 1-2-3 top of the sixth.
In the bottom half, Deering finally got to Heath, but only momentarily.
After senior designated hitter Anthony Balzano grounded out to Jake Gardiner, who made a nice diving stop, senior Devon Fitzgerald hit for Gullbrand and grounded a single past Heath and into centerfield.
Heath promptly picked Fitzgerald off, however, then induced Hardy to ground back to the hill.
"I was just hoping to catch them off guard and apparently I did," said Heath, alluding to his two pickoffs. "It's great, especially after walking a guy."
DiBiase had his best inning in the top of the seventh, forcing three ground outs.
Heath then went out and put the finishing touches on his gem.
Sam Balzano did lead off the inning with a single to left, but Bevilacqua lined out to first and Stauble turned it into a double play. Colucci then hit back to the mound and appropriately, Heath threw to first to end it.
"It's always good to play out here," Heath said. "It's exciting, a big rivalry game. I'm glad we came out and took care of business and did what we had to do to get the win. Last year, we beat them twice and we knew if we came in and did what we have to do, we have a good ballclub and we're tough to beat. It's good to beat Deering up after they beat us up a couple years ago. It's nice."
"Deering, Cheverus and us are three of the better teams around," Rutherford said. "Scarborough too. Deering's all seniors. We're all seniors. DiBiase is their best, Scott's our best. We played great baseball. We stepped it up when it counted. We're getting great pitching and playing good defense. We're doing just enough with the bats. I wish we had more hitting, but we had key hits today. We're not going to score 14, 15 runs, but 5, 6-0 with our pitching is great."
Heath allowed just two hits and one walk in his seven scoreless innings as he improved to 5-0. He struck out three and picked off two runners, meaning he faced the minimum of 21 batters.
"I was definitely spotting the fastball well and my curveball was breaking well," Heath said. "I had a lot of good, late movement. I mixed up a couple changeups to keep them off balance. I didn't have as many strikeouts, but they didn't make good, solid contact."
"With Scott pitching, (a 3-0 lead) feels like 10-0," said Rutherford. "No one reached second base. He's 5-0 now with five shutouts. Only one guy has reached third base. He's been that dominant. Two one-hitters, two two-hitters. He's thrown 31 innings with no runs. That's hard to do in high school baseball. Deering swings the bat as well as anybody, but they really didn't hit the ball hard. There weren't a lot of loud outs. Overall, that's our eighth shutout. We've only had one game where we gave up a run."
Deering could only tip its cap to Heath's phenomenal effort.
"He threw very well," Sutton said. "Everything was down by the knees. He threw a great game and they played great defense behind him. He's got a great move. We haven't seen anybody with that great of a move. We didn't get on enough to see his move."
The loss was the Rams' first by shutout since a 6-0 loss to Portland in the Western A semifinals on June 12, 2006. Deering was last shut out in the regular season on May 20 of that year (4-0 to visiting Windham).
Offensively, Westbrook got two hits each from Kyle Heath and Scott Heath. Kyle Heath, Scott Heath (two) and Bates all had doubles. Scott Heath had two RBI, Kyle Heath and Collett one apiece. Kyle Heath scored twice, Scott Heath, Jake Gardiner, Stauble and Quinlan once.
For Deering, Sam Balzano and Fitzgerald had the lone hits. DiBiase (3-1) wound up surrendering six runs on nine hits, walking one, hitting a batter and fanning six. He retired the last seven hitters he faced.
"We haven't played from behind this year," Sutton said. "It's kind of a good test. What I liked was from the third inning on, DiBiase made an adjustment and finished strong. I thought he did a good job. He's upset because he's a competitor."
Westbrook (first in the latest Western Class A Heal Points standings) hosts South Portland Monday and goes to Scarborough Tuesday. The Blue Blazes welcome Portland Thursday, play at Windham Saturday, then finish the regular season with a huge home showdown versus second-ranked Cheverus on May 31.
Westbrook's status as the Western Class A favorite was solidified with this win, but the Blue Blazes know they still have a long way to go.
"There is pressure, but we have so many guys in the lineup that can do the job," Heath said. "It won't be the same people every game. New people step up every game. We're not relying on the No. 3 or 4 hitters to drive everyone in."
"It doesn't get any easier," Rutherford said. "We have South Portland and (its ace Andrew) Richards on Monday and Scarborough with (star pitcher Ben) Wessel on Tuesday."
Deering (currently third in the Heals) is at Cheverus Tuesday and Scarborough Thursday as the schedule remains challenging, to say the least. The Rams also have a makeup game at Gorham and home tests versus Marshwood and South Portland on the docket to close the regular season.
"We have Cheverus, Scarborough, Marshwood and South Portland, but other than that, it's easy," Sutton joked. "(Westbrook) earned a lot of Heal Points today. We still have time."