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Deering scores late to win at Scarborough, 4-3

Sports

Deering scores late to win at Scarborough, 4-3

SCARBOROUGH—Neither team played particularly well and offense was anything but prevalent, but the host Scarborough and Deering baseball teams still managed to put on a show and battle to the wire Thursday afternoon.

After the Red Storm scored two runs without benefit of a hit to tie the score in the bottom of the sixth, the Rams responded in the top of the seventh, going ahead to stay on senior designated hitter Devon Fitzgerald's RBI hit, before holding on behind the gritty effort of senior hurler Jamie Ross to beat Scarborough, 4-3.

Ross allowed just two hits in helping Deering improve to 11-2 and earn critical Heal Points as the season nears its conclusion. The Red Storm dropped to 10-3 with the setback.

"I'm proud we came back," said Rams first-year coach Mark Sutton. "We could have folded. It was one of those games where when one team made a mistake, the other team capitalized. I'm glad we got it done in the seventh inning. I didn't want to play another one."

Old friends

While Deering and Scarborough don't have much of rivalry, the teams' coaches know each other very well.

Coutts (third base) and Sutton (second base) played on the same infield at the University of Maine and Sutton served as an assistant under Coutts at Deering in 2009 and 2010.

After Coutts left the Rams to replace Jim Cronin as the Red Storm's new coach, Sutton took over the storied Deering program and has enjoyed a pretty good run so far.

The Rams, who lost to Westbrook in last year's regional semifinals to snap a three-year title run, won, 4-3, at South Portland in the opener, then dropped a 4-3 decision at Biddeford before rattling off eight straight victories. Saturday, Deering fell at home to the dominant Scott Heath and Westbrook, 6-0, but Wednesday, the Rams dropped back by outslugging host Gorham, 18-11.

Scarborough, which was upset by eventual regional champion Biddeford in last year's quarterfinals, has dazzled this spring with its pitching. After opening with a 4-1 home loss to Cheverus, the Red Storm won seven in row, highlighted by back-to-back no-hitters, as Ben Wessel did the honors at Sanford and freshman Ben Greenberg followed with a gem of his own over visiting Massabesic. After a 5-0 win at South Portland, Scarborough beat host Marshwood and Biddeford, then handed Westbrook its first loss Monday (5-4).

Since moving up to Class A in 2004, the Red Storm haven't had much luck against the Rams. Deering won the first four meetings by a composite 44-8 margin. Scarborough finally broke through in 2006 with a 6-5 (eight inning) victory, but the Rams got a measure of revenge with an improbable come-from-behind 10-9  (nine inning) win in that year's quarterfinals. Deering beat Scarborough in the 2007 opener (6-0), by mercy rule (10-0, in six innings) in 2008, in both the regular season (22-4, in five innings) and Western A Final (16-10) in 2009 and again by mercy rule last spring (13-3, in five innings).

Thursday's game was close throughout, but ended with a familiar result.

After Red Storm senior starter Ryan Mancini set the Rams down in order in the top of the first, Scarborough went on top in the bottom half without a hit.

Ross walked leadoff hitter, junior shortstop Joe Cronin, who promptly stole second. Senior leftfielder Kevin Philbrick followed with a ground ball to Deering senior shortstop Nick Colucci, whose throw to first was low and got past senior first baseman Mason Morgan, allowing Cronin to race home with the game's first run.

The Rams pulled even in the second as with one out, junior rightfielder Nick DiBiase drew a walk, moved to second on a single to left-center from senior catcher John Miranda, then, after the runners moved up on a passed ball, DiBiase came home when senior third baseman John Hannigan grounded out to third.

Ross gave up a one-out single to second baseman Nick Bagley in the bottom half, but promptly picked him off, ending any momentum the hosts might have had.

In the top of the third, Fitzgerald got things going by beating out an infield hit. Senior centerfielder Sam Balzano followed with a double to left-center and senior second baseman Matt Bevilacqua beat out an infield hit, scoring Fitzgerald and moving Balzano to third. Colucci followed by grounding into a short-to-second-to-first double play, but Balzano scored and it was 3-1.

Ross then settled in, retiring Scarborough in order in the bottom half.

After Deering went quietly in the top of the fourth, the Red Storm looked to cut into the deficit when Mancini reached on a Hannigan error with one out and stole second. Ross then fanned senior rightfielder Kyle Kelley and induced senior catcher Nick Murphy to ground out to second.

Balzano walked with two down in the top of the fifth and stole second, but Bevilacqua struck out.

In the bottom half, the hosts got a leadoff walk by Bagley, who was erased when Greenberg (the third baseman) bunted into a pitcher-to-short force out.  A wild pitch moved Greenberg to second and he took third when senior centerfielder Joe Viola struck out, but reached on a Miranda passed ball. Ross would escape the jam, however, by getting Cronin to hit a one-hopper back to mound. Ross threw to Colucci for one out and Colucci's throw to first was dug out of the dirt beautifully by Morgan to keep it a 3-1 game.

After a 1-2-3 top of the sixth, Scarborough drew even in its half.

Thanks in large part to the Rams' battery.

Philbrick was hit by a pitch leading off. He stole second and with one out, moved to third on a wild pitch. Mancini then drew a walk and stole second as Kelley was fanning for the second out.

On the verge of getting out of the inning with Murphy at the plate, Miranda had a passed ball which allowed Philbrick to score and Ross unleashed a wild pitch that brought home Mancini to make it a brand new ballgame, 3-3.

"Whenever you hit or walk a guy to start an inning it's a bad omen," Sutton said. "You know all hell's going to break loose. (Jamie) threw a great game. We had a couple passed balls, but all the runs were unearned."

Deering would immediately answer in the top of the seventh and retake the lead for good.

With one down, Hannigan singled to left.

"Johnny Hannigan's done a great job filling in for Devon at third," said Sutton. "He's got to be hitting close to .400."

A wild pitch moved pinch-runner, senior Anthony Balzano, to second. Senior leftfielder John Hardy blooped a single to right to move Balzano to third, bringing up Fitzgerald, who rose to the occasion, dropping a single in front of the hard charging Kelley to drive home Balzano for a 4-3 lead.

"I was just looking to get a base hit," said Fitzgerald. "That was a key at-bat and I needed to get the run in. I wasn't sure about the hit, but it dropped and we scored and I got excited."

Sam Balzano followed with a walk to load the bases, forcing Coutts to pull Mancini in favor of Cronin. The reliever escaped further trouble, fanning Bevilacqua looking and getting Colucci to hit back to the mound.

"If I could do anything over, I'd bring in Cronin sooner, but hindsight's 20-20," Coutts said.

Ross came out for the bottom of the seventh, hoping to slam the door, but the pesky Bagley led off with a single to left. Senior pinch-hitter Jack Adams attempted to bunt Bagley over, but couldn't make contact. Miranda then spied Bagley off the bag and caught the runner in a rundown. He was ultimately tagged out Miranda-to-Bevilacqua-to-Morgan-to-Bevilacqua-to-Colucci.

"I made things interesting for us in the sixth, but credit to Johnny coming back and making that big play," Ross said.

"Johnny didn't panic," Sutton said. "We practice that. Letting the play happen. He did a great job, though I'd like to see us do it in one throw and not four."

"We had a bunt on and the kid got too far off," Coutts lamented.

Adams then struck out and it was up to junior pinch-hitter Conor McCann. Ross then reared back and struck McCann out to end it.

"We're happy with the outcome," Ross said. "We lost a little momentum, but we didn't lose all of it. I think (losing to Westbrook) was a good thing. (Blue Blazes senior ace Scott Heath was Heath) that day. He didn't give us hittable strikes.  It was a good learning game. You hate for a loss, but a win like this gives us Heal Points and we're right back in it."

"Scarborough's a very good squad, but we played good baseball." said Fitzgerald. "Base hits win the game. We're all competitors on this team and they are too, but we swung the bats today and got the win. Jamie threw a great game. The loss against Westbrook kind of lit a fire under us."

"This gets us in the playoffs," Sutton added. "They did a great job not getting done and finding opportunities. It's a good win. I was looking forward to this game. All these games are critical."

Ross improved to 4-1 by gritting out seven innings, getting stronger and stronger as the game progressed. He allowed three unearned runs on just two hits with three walks, two wild pitches and a hit-batsman. He fanned 10 (five in the last two innings).

"(Starting slowly is) kind of a tendency," Ross said. "I usually like to throw 50 pitches before the game, but obviously, time's limited. I think I've noticed that as I keep going I get in a bit of a groove and get stronger as I go."

Offensively, Deering got two hits from Fitzgerald, a double from Sam Balzano, RBIs from Bevilacqua, Fitzgerald and Hannigan and runs from Anthony Balzano, Sam Balzano, DiBiase and Fitzgerald.

For Scarborough, Mancini (3-3) took the loss after surrendering four runs on seven hits with three walks, a wild pitch and five Ks. Cronin retired both batters he faced, including one by strikeout.

The Red Storm only managed two hits, both by Bagley, who was picked off both times. Cronin, Philbrick and Wessel all touched home plate.

"I said to Sutty, you wouldn't know two of the best teams in Class A played baseball today," Coutts said. "They didn't play well and we certainly didn't play well. The other team gave away everything. It wasn't a very well played game. That's the excitement and the cruelty of sport. Tuesday (after beating Westbrook), we were excited. Today, we're down.

"Jamie pitched well and hit his spots in and out and kept us off balance all game. He got his breaking ball over. Ryan pitched well and kept them off-balance with breaking balls. If I'm going to lose to anybody, I'd just as soon lose to Mark Sutton. Hopefully, we'll get them next time."

Back at it

Neither team had time to dwell on the outcome.

Scarborough (third in the Western Class A Heal Points standings coming into the game) plays Bonny Eagle in a makeup game Friday at 7. The game is at Scarborough, but the Red Storm are the road team. Saturday (11 a.m.), Scarborough visits Cheverus. Tuesday, the Red Storm close the regular season at Portland.

I just worry about us and hope we can win as many games as we can," Coutts said. "We figure we'll have to play Deering or Cheverus or Westbrook anyway, it doesn't matter where you end up. You'll have to play good teams one way or another. We'll get ready for the playoffs now."

Deering (sixth in the region coming in, likely to move up) has another huge test at Cheverus Friday (3 p.m.), hosts Marshwood Saturday and closes at home versus South Portland Monday night.

"We'll enjoy this the rest of the night, but we have another big one tomorrow," said Ross. "It's one right after another. We just have to keep resting our arms and get ready for the next big game."

"We won't know (where we stand) until we wake up Wednesday morning," Sutton said. "We got this one. I'll take it."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.