Cheverus' bats erupt in 15-7 win over Deering
PORTLAND—The Cheverus baseball team put on a hitting clinic Friday afternoon at Kevin McDonald Memorial Field.
After digging an early 2-0 hole against pedigreed powerhouse Deering, the Stags pounded out 15 hits and scored 15 runs, thanks in large part to five RBI apiece from senior catcher Nic Lops and junior leftfielder Harry Ridge, both of whom hit long home runs, and went on to a 15-7 triumph over the Rams.
Cheverus erased the early deficit with a five-run second inning, added two runs in the fourth, three in the fifth and put it away with Ridge's grand slam in a five-run sixth as it improved to 13-1, dropping Deering to 11-3.
"Offense has been kind of our weak point the last couple years I've been here, so it's good to show teams what we can do," Lops said. "It's not a one-man sport. You need all the pieces. What was most impressive was our hitting in the clutch today."
Deering has set the bar for baseball excellence for over a decade, winning eight Class A state championships since 2009. The Rams welcomed a new coach, Mark Sutton, this spring, and won 11 of their first 13 games, capped by a dramatic 4-3 victory at Scarborough Thursday.
Cheverus has long been in Deering's shadow, including last spring, when the Stags beat the Rams, 5-4, in the opener (snapping Deering's 50-game win streak in the process), only to lose, 4-1, in the quarterfinals. So far, this season, however, Cheverus has excelled, winning 12 of its first 13, but the Stags lacked a signature victory prior to Friday.
They have one now.
The Rams appeared to take control in the top of the first. With one down, senior second baseman Matt Bevilacqua walked, senior Boston College-bound shortstop Nick Colucci singled and senior leftfielder Jamie Ross singled to load the bases. Stags senior starting pitcher Jack Bushey then walked junior pitcher Nick DiBiase and senior catcher John Miranda back-to-back to chase home two runs.
Deering was on the brink of breaking the game open, but Bushey got senior third baseman John Hannigan to hit back to the mound and Bushey threw to Lops for a force and Lops threw on to senior first baseman Joey Royer to complete the 1-2-3 double play, keeping it a 2-0 game.
"The first inning, they had the bases loaded and we got out of that the best we could," Lops said. "Jack's a competitor for us. It could have been a lot worse. We were thankful."
"The double play was big," added Cheverus' second-year coach Mac McKew. "They could have put up five or six and it would have been a different game. It could have been over and we could have wilted, but we didn't."
The hosts couldn't answer in their half of the first, despite a one-out double from Lops, but after Bushey surrendered just a two-out infield single to senior centerfielder Sam Balzano in the top of the second, the Stags' bats came alive.
Leading off the bottom of the second, Royer was in a two-strike hole, but DiBiase hit him with a pitch and the floodgates opened.
Junior third baseman Tyler Flaherty followed with a base hit down the rightfield line and runners were at the corners. Bushey then did his part to help himself with a blast midway up the hill in left-center. Royer raced home with Cheverus' first run and runners were at first and second. After Ridge grounded out to Bevilacqua to tie the score, junior centerfielder Spencer Cooke struck out. Junior shortstop Louie DiStasio followed with a single to center, however, and the Stags had the lead, 3-2.
That brought Lops to the plate and on a 3-1 pitch, he absolutely crushed a blast to deep right-center. Despite the effort of Balzano, the ball soared over the fence for a home run and Cheverus had a 5-2 advantage.
"We capitalized on mistakes," Lops said. "It was a 3-1 count. It was a lefty pitcher on a lefty hitter, so I was seeing a lot of curveballs early. I was sitting fastball, he left it belt-high and I got enough. You never know because of (Balzano) in centerfield, but it felt good off the bat."
"I think the key to the whole game was in the second where Royer had two strikes and we hit him," Sutton lamented. "You get him out there and it changes the whole complexion. That was a trend that went in their direction. Cheverus just flat-out hit the ball. Every guy. We made some mistakes and they capitalized. The door was open and they went after it."
Deering roared right back in its half of the third.
With one down, Colucci beat out an infield hit and Ross followed by crushing a Bushey offering deep over Ridge's head and over the fence to make it 5-4.
"Ross is a great hitter," McKew said. "That was a major league swing."
Cheverus failed to score in the bottom of the third, but Bushey worked around a two-out walk to senior designated hitter Devon Fitzgerald in the top of the fourth and the Stags got the bats going again in their half of the inning.
Cooke, one of the heroes of the football state championship game, led off by poking a shot to right-center and showing his tremendous speed in racing around the bases for a triple. DiStasio singled to left to drive him home to make it 6-4. DiStasio then stole second and one out later raced home on a single by senior rightfielder Peter Potthoff.
Bushey set Deering down in order in the fifth and the hosts kept up the offensive onslaught in their half of the inning.
With two outs and no one on, Ridge singled to right. Cooke followed with a walk and DiStasio hit a shot back to DiBiase that the pitcher couldn't handle, loading the bases.
It was Lops' turn and the St. Joseph's College-bound slugger didn't disappoint, doubling to left-center to score Ridge and Cooke and DiStasio scored as well when the throw from leftfield went awry.
Trailing 10-4 in the top of the sixth, Deering didn't buckle and made things very interesting.
DiBiase singled to center, was wild pitched to second and scored when Miranda lofted a double over Ridge's head. Junior Jamie Gullbrand batted for Hannigan and was hit by a pitch. After a strikeout and ground out, Balzano brought the visitors within 10-7 with a triple to dead center. Bushey ended the threat by getting Bevilacqua to ground out to third.
Then, in the bottom of the sixth, Cheverus ended all doubt.
Melville got things started against senior reliever Anthony Balzano with an innocuous walk. With Melville running, Royer singled through the vacated spot at short and the Stags had runners at the corners. After Flaherty walked to load the bases, Bushey flied harmlessly to right, but Ridge wasn't about to go as quietly.
He sat on the first offering from Anthony Balzano and sent a blast to right-center. Sam Balzano went back as deep as he could, but he couldn't get a glove on the ball as it soared over the fence for a grand slam home run and a 14-7 lead.
"It was a first-pitch fastball," Ridge said. "I was looking to do something good. It was in the triangle. I hoped it would go out. It felt good."
Anthony Balzano gave way to sophomore hurler Nick Sweet, just elevated from the junior varsity team, who walked Cooke, allowed a double to DiStasio and an RBI groundout to Lops to stretch the advantage to 15-7.
In the seventh, Bushey retired Colucci on a liner to second, got Ross to pop foul to first and ended the afternoon by forcing DiBiase to ground out to second.
"Coach preaches play every game like it's a playoff game," Lops said. "You never know. I did think we'd be this good. The big thing is focus and positive energy. Sometimes in past years we got down on ourselves too much. We're a tight group. Today, we showed a lot of people we have what it takes."
"We've had a good year hitting the ball," added McKew. "We picked up quite a few (Heal Points) today. We'd rather beat them at the end of the year than the beginning. Today, we're in a good place. Baseball's a day-to-day thing. We played three games in three days and won them all, so we're in a good mental state."
The Cheverus offense stole the show with 15 hits, including two dingers, four doubles and a triple. DiStasio had four hits, Lops three and Potthoff two. While Lops and Ridge each drove in five runs, DiStasio had two RBI, while Bushey and Potthoff had one apiece. DiStasio scored three times, Flaherty, Ridge and Royer twice each. DiStasio also had two steals.
Bushey struggled at times, but did enough to improve to 3-0 after surrendering seven runs on eight hits, four walks and a hit batsman. Bushey fanned three and never gave in to adversity.
"Bushey wasn't sharp and his control wasn't great, but he's a grinder," McKew said. "He's our Dice-K. He makes life interesting in many ways."
For Deering, Ross pounded a home run., scored a run and drove in two, Miranda doubled and had an RBI and Sam Balzano and DiBiase also drove in runs. Sam Balzano, Colucci and Ross all had multiple hits. Colucci scored twice.
DiBiase fell to 3-2 after giving up 10 runs (nine earned) on a dozen hits. He hit a batter and struck out three. Anthony Balzano gave up four earned runs on two hits and two walks. Sweet surrendered a run on a hit and a walk.
"(Cheverus is) a great hitting team," said Sutton. "They're the the real deal. Even though Bushey gave up seven runs today, he didn't pitch like he gave up seven runs. When we started to crawl back, he did a good job throwing the ball on the inside of the plate, handcuffing our players."
No rest for the weary
Both Cheverus and Deering take the field at 11 a.m. Saturday morning, meaning this result will soon be forgotten.
"These guys have Prom tonight," Sutton said. "By the time they hit their houses, they'll forget about it. I'm the one that will think about it all night. We haven't been on the field to practice in 10 or 12 days. It's a tough way to end the year, but everyone else is in the same position."
The Rams (now fourth in Western A) host Marshwood Saturday (at Harlow Field) and close Monday night (6 p.m., at Hadlock Field) versus South Portland.
"Yesterday's game, beating Scarborough, solidified us in the playoffs," Sutton said. "You get up in the morning and wonder, 'Where are we today?'"
The Stags (currently first in the region) play host to Scarborough. They close at regional favorite Westbrook Tuesday.
"The last few games we got Deering, Scarborough, Westbrook," said Lops. "It's a very, very tight league. The games mean a lot, but there's still a lot of ball to go. You aim for homefield. A lot can happen. We'd rather bat last if we can."
"It's always good to beat Deering," Ridge said. "It's huge. It gets our momentum going toward playoffs. I'm not surprised we're this good. We want to play here. We want to keep it going."
"Tomorrow, we get Scarborough, our fourth game in four days," McKew added. "DiStasio will pitch. We're set up."