Cape baseball top seed in Western B; Scarborough, SP top threats in Western A
The Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough and South Portland baseball teams all began their title quests Thursday in the quarterfinal round and each local power has legitimate reasons to believe it can go all the way.
Best since '92
In Western B, the Capers wrapped up their finest regular season in 18 years when they beat Greely, 5-2, last week to wind up 15-1, leapfrogging Yarmouth for the top spot in the final Heal Points standings in the process.
"We are very pleased with our regular season," Cape Elizabeth coach Chris Hayward said. "Our first goal was to win enough games to make the playoffs and we took care of that pretty quickly. I'm pleased our efforts didn't diminish after securing a spot.
"Statistically, we've had the best season since I've been here. Our team batting average was .342. We have five regulars hitting over .350, but really, our entire lineup is a threat to do some damage at the plate. Our pitching and defense have been very good as well."
Cape Elizabeth has been led by senior ace pitcher Conor Moloney, who has a 0.00 earned run average and senior Will Pierce, who hit .511 and was named the Rupert Johnson Award winner as the best player/sportsman in Western Class B, voted on by the Western Maine Board of Umpires.
The Capers hosted No. 8 Oak Hill (9-7) in its first playoff test. The teams didn't play in the regular season and last met in the postseason in 2004 (a 4-1 Cape Elizabeth victory in the semifinals, en route to its last state title).
"As are all teams, we are excited for the playoffs," Hayward said. "It's hard to wait a week-and-a-half for playoffs to start, way too long as far as I'm concerned. We know from our own past experience that the rankings don't matter when playoffs come. Any team good enough to make the playoffs is a threat that we take seriously."
If Cape Elizabeth passes its first playoff test, there's a good chance it will host No. 5 Greely (10-6) in the semifinals Saturday. The Capers beat the Rangers twice this spring (6-5 at home May 3 and again in the regular season finale) The teams have squared off eight previous times (dating back to 1991) in the postseason with Greely taking five, including last year's epic (1-0, in 10 innings, in the semifinals).
Scarborough made it to a first-ever Western A Final a year ago, then graduated some top-notch talent, including superb pitcher Chris Bernard. As a result, many expected the Red Storm to come back to the pack, but instead they won seven of their final eight games to wind up 12-4 and took the No. 2 spot behind three-time defending state champion Deering.
"Obviously, I am very pleased with the season and the way the guys have played," said coach Jim Cronin. "We had a lot of question marks going into it, but I still thought we had the chance to be a top five team. I was confident we would have the pitching, but was unsure how we would do offensively and defensively.
"We have certainly gotten the pitching this year. Our starters, Andrew Myers, Ben Wessel, and Joe Cronin, have been outstanding and we ended up leading the league with the lowest team (earned run average, 1.67). Offensively, we were led by Jacob Rutt, who started the year as the (designated hitter) before finally taking the field at first base just before the halfway mark on the season. Jacob ended up winning the league batting title with a .510 batting average. We are now starting to see all the bats going and that is what we need. We ended up finishing the year with a .293 team average, good for fifth place in the league.
"Defensively, we have struggled at times. Opponents scored 56 runs against us this year, but only 26 of them were earned. We have started to turn that around and the guys have been playing pretty clean down the stretch."
The Red Storm drew No. 7 Biddeford (9-7) in the quarterfinals. Back on May 17, Scarborough lost, 6-5, at the Tigers on a walkoff home run in the bottom of the seventh inning. The only previous playoff meeting between the teams came in the 2002 preliminary round (an 8-3 Biddeford triumph).
"We like our matchup with Biddeford in the first round," Cronin said. "We lost to them after leading the entire game and the guys are fired up to avenge that loss. I feel like we have as much of a chance of playing for the state title as any team in the league and it will be a matter of staying mentally focused and tough throughout the playoffs."
If Scarborough advances to Saturday's semifinals, it would host either No. 3 Bonny Eagle (10-6) or No. 6 Windham (9-7). The Red Storm beat the Scots, 3-1, at home on April 27 and split with the Eagles (falling, 7-1, in Windham in the opener on April 24 and winning, 11-1, in six innings, at home in the regular season finale, June 1). Scarborough last faced the Eagles in the playoffs in the 2005 preliminary round (a 5-2 loss) and eliminated the Scots in last year's quarterfinal round, 4-2.
Red Riots lurk
South Portland entered the 2010 campaign as one of the favorites and has done very well, winning 11 of 16 contests, capped by a 9-2 win at Gorham last Wednesday.
"We had a very good year," said Red Riots coach Tony DiBiase. "If it wasn't for one bad inning against Deering (a 4-3 loss on May 22), we'd be No. 1 or No. 2."
Instead, the Red Riots finished fifth in what was arguably the most balanced field in league history. South Portland had to go to No. 4 Westbrook (11-5), the preseason favorite, in the quarterfinals Thursday. The Red Riots beat the visiting Blue Blazes, 2-0, back on May 27 and upset them in last year's quarterfinals, 5-3.
"We'll have to come and play our best game," said DiBiase, a one-time Westbrook standout. "I'm looking forward to it. We're confident we'll go over and play well. Westbrook and Deering are still the two favorites. (Senior Scott) Heath is the best pitcher in the league, but talent-wise, we're in the ballpark. We're seasoned and we know we can play with them.
"It's been a pretty even league. Unlike in past years, it's very balanced. In the past, Deering was like a college team. They're still very good this year, but the talent in the league is more spread out."
If South Portland can advance to Saturday's semifinal round, it will go either go to No. 1 Deering (12-4) or host No. 8 Cheverus (9-7). The Red Riots beat the Stags, 4-3, May 13, in Portland. The teams have never before met in the playoffs. South Portland and Deering have played seven previous times in the postseason with the Rams winning four (including the most recent, an 11-3 quarterfinal round triumph, two years ago).
Looking ahead, the Western A Final is next Tuesday, June 15, at 7 p.m., at St. Joseph's College in Standish. The Western B Final is the next day at the same location, also at 7 p.m. The Class A state game is in Standish Saturday, June 19, at 12 p.m. The Class B state final is June 19 in Bangor, beginning at 11 a.m.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org