Cheverus crushes Lewiston, wins first baseball state title!
AUGUSTA—First baseman Harry Ridge was the first one there, wrapping up pitcher Joey Royer in a big bear hug.
Shortstop Louie DiStasio wasn’t far behind, flying in with a chest bump.
Third baseman Tyler Flaherty raised one finger high as he rushed over.
The celebration started to lean when catcher Nic Lops charged in.
By the time the guys from the outfield and dugout joined — add second baseman Nick Melville to that group, since he had to drift back to snare the final out — there was just a big pile of happy bodies shouting in the infield.
Though the drama had left Morton Field innings earlier, the Cheverus postgame revelry certainly did not lack in enthusiasm. The Stags captured the Class A baseball state championship with a 9-1 win over Lewiston on a sunny Saturday afternoon, giving the school its first-ever baseball state title.
Senior Peter Potthoff paced the Cheverus offense with a home run, pair of doubles and five RBI. Royer, a senior, went the distance on the mound, allowing only five hits while striking out seven and walking one.
The Stags (18-2) completed an impressive playoff run in which they surrendered just five runs in four games. Cheverus overcame a rainout and an early deficit in the quarterfinals to get past Thornton Academy (5-2), exploded for an eight-run inning to dispatch South Portland in the semifinals (8-2), then blanked preseason favorite Westbrook, 2-0, in the Western A championship. It was the third time in just over two weeks that the Stags defeated the Blue Blazes, beating them in extra innings in the regular-season finale and league championship.
Stellar pitching, solid fielding and timely hitting were the Cheverus hallmarks throughout the year. The Stags got those, along with plenty of insurance runs, against Lewiston, the Eastern Maine champs, which wraps up the year at 18-2.
“We’ve been down,” said Lops, a senior. “We were down against Thornton Academy when we resumed the second day, 1-0. We were down to South Portland 2-0. You’re kind of on the edge of your seat, so it was nice to get a lead today, stay ahead and get some insurance. It feels good. We were just waiting for that last pitch.”
Melville, a junior, ran back into rightfield and had to leap to make the catch as he tracked down the pop-up off the bat of Lewiston senior Tucker Beaudoin to end the game, setting of the infield merriment.
“It means a lot,” said Potthoff, a senior. “I love Cheverus. I’ve been here since freshman year and played baseball since freshman year. To do this and make history just feels great. It feels absolutely outstanding.”
Potthoff doubled in the third inning with two outs to drive in two runs and give Cheverus a 3-0 lead. His fifth-inning double to left-center bounced off the top of the wall, knocking in a run while missing a home run by inches. He cleared the 350-foot sign in right-center with his sixth-inning blast that plated two.
“And he’s going to go to veterinary school,” said Cheverus coach Mac McKew, smiling as he shook his head. “What a way to end your baseball career. He hits No. 3 for a reason, and you saw it today.”
Senior designated hitter Jack Bushey singled to lead off the third for Cheverus, which had been retired in order in the first two innings by Lewiston senior starting pitcher Jeff Keene. Ridge, a junior, moved Bushey over with a sacrifice bunt. Junior Spencer Cooke followed with a single down the rightfield line that scored Bushey. After DiStasio, a junior, flied out to right, Lops walked. Potthoff cleared the bases with his double that hugged the leftfield line to stay fair. Melville nearly added to the lead with a deep drive to left that Lewiston junior Chris Madden bobbled but caught.
After being given the lead, Royer retired the next nine Blue Devils he faced.
Cheverus chased Keene in the fourth inning after he walked Royer to start it off. Senior Joe Sullivan came on in relief for Lewiston and got a strikeout, pickoff and groundout to escape damage after walking Flaherty, a junior.
The Stags got to Sullivan in the fifth, however. Lops roped a two-out single, then scored from first on Potthoff’s second double. Melville’s bloop fell in on an error by the centerfielder, allowing Potthoff to score, making it 5-0.
The Cheverus offensive onslaught continued in the sixth. Bushey was hit by a pitch to lead off. Ridge followed with a single. Cooke’s sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position, and DiStasio’s double off the leftfield wall scored them both. After Lops flied out, Potthoff whacked his home run to make it 9-0.
“I was trying to drive the ball and do what I could to get some RBIs,” Potthoff said. “We just wanted to bury them as much as we could to ensure that we won this. I’m loving it. We’re all loving it. This is probably the best day of my life.”
Lewiston got on the board when junior Luke Cote led off the bottom of the sixth with a solo homer to rightfield. After a pop out, Lewiston senior Mekae Hyde singled and advanced to third when junior Corbin Hyde’s fly to right-center fell in when Cooke and Potthoff collided. Corbin Hyde reached second on the error. But any Lewiston hopes of a rally were quickly dashed as Royer got Keene on a pop out and struck out Sullivan to end the inning.
Madden led off the seventh for Lewiston with an infield single, but was erased when junior Shawn Ricker grounded into a double play.
The baseball championship caps an incredible, perhaps unprecedented, run for Cheverus this school year in three major sports. The Stags also captured the Class A football title in the fall and won the Western Class A basketball championship before falling to Bangor in the state game in the winter. Four Cheverus players were members of all three teams: DiStasio, seniors Peter Gwilym (who played leftfield but did not hit against the Blue Devils) and A.J Bennett and sophomore Michael Flaherty.
“It’s just unreal to win this, first of all,” DiStasio said. “Baseball, I’ve always wanted. Baseball has always been my favorite sport. To win two in one year is just incredible. It would have been real cool to win all three, but just to have two alone — I mean, a lot of kids never even get to go to one state championship in their whole career. It’s just unreal that I get to go to three in one year.”
Cheverus, coming off a 9-8 record and a quarterfinal loss in 2010, was overshadowed in most preseason prognostications with Westbrook, Deering and Scarborough thought to be the top contenders. But the Stags believed in themselves even if few others did.
“Cheverus has never been here,” Lops said. “This is our first state title. When you look at that, you say maybe it is a surprise. Maybe we are a Cinderella team. But when we started on March 21— I believe that was the first day for pitchers and catchers — we wanted to be here. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to us.”
“We knew we had the talent that was capable of this,” McKew said. “And we did it. We beat Westbrook three times. That’s a good baseball team. We had to beat them three times to get here. And Lewiston is tough.”
The core of Westbrook’s senior class played for three Western Maine titles, but came up empty each time. Many of the seniors were also on the Little League team that played in the 2005 World Series, and also on the 2008 Babe Ruth team that finished as World Series runners-up. Royer is from Westbrook and was an integral member of both those youth teams.
“This is awesome,” said Royer. “This is exactly what I dreamed about since going to Cheverus my freshman year — to have a state title and to be competitive with my old school and beat them. We did. Three times this year. I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
Royer admitted that he worried that his decision to go to Cheverus would mean he’d be left watching his former Westbrook teammates win a state title while not getting one himself.
“I definitely worried about that,” said Royer. “And I heard it from them every year. They put it in my head every year, telling me I probably wouldn’t win at Cheverus. But we made a team. All these guys are great guys. We meshed together really well and played together really well.”
Now Royer is the only member of that Little League team and Babe Ruth team that can also claim a state championship.
“Joey just went up one notch above all of them,” McKew said.
Royer could not pitch for nearly a month due to tendinitis. He returned to pitch two innings in the league championship, then went six strong innings to get the win in the semifinals. He said he found out Friday that he would definitely get the start against Lewiston. He made the most of it.
“He was outstanding,” McKew said. “He’s had command. He’s a man of character. He’s got a great head on his shoulders. He’s a co-captain because of his character and the way he handles himself. Joey’s a winner. He’s been a winner his whole life. No surprise there.”
“I love playing in big-time games with all this pressure, the big field with all these people here,” Royer said.
Cheverus graduates seven seniors from the team: Royer, Lops, Potthoff, Bushey, Gwilym, Bennett and Liam Hobbins. While those are some tough shoes to fill, the Stags will return multiple starters, along with three experienced pitchers in Ridge, DiStasio and freshman Mitchell Powers. Each went 3-0 in the regular season.
“We’ve got the core group of Melville, DiStasio, Ridge, Flaherty and Cooke coming back,” said McKew. “Our biggest challenge is going to be finding a catcher. A catcher like Lops gets taken for granted. That’s how you win championships.”