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Scarborough primes for SP showdown with 7-1 win over McAuley

Sports

Scarborough primes for SP showdown with 7-1 win over McAuley

SCARBOROUGH—The Scarborough softball team has eagerly awaited its shot at defending Class A champion South Portland, the team which ended the Red Storm's championship reign a year ago.

While Scarborough will finally get its crack at the Red Riots Tuesday afternoon (weather permitting, of course), it had some business to first attend to Monday night when one of the other top contenders in the region, McAuley, paid a visit.

Thanks to the pitching and hitting of sophomore Erin Giles, the Red Storm ensured they'll take an undefeated record into the South Portland game.

Giles earned the victory on the mound by hurling five innings and pounded an opposite field home run as Scarborough, which hadn't played a game in 10 days, improved to 10-0 with a 7-1 home victory over the Lions, who fell to 11-2 on the year.

"I think the kids realized we had a challenge tonight," said longtime Red Storm coach Tom Griffin. "I think it was good for us. We knew we'd be challenged. (McAuley's) scrappy. They give themselves a chance in every game. They have some good athletes and dedicated softball players. Things just kind of went our way."

Top contenders

Scarborough's hopes of repeating as Class A champion was stymied by South Portland in the regional final a year ago. This season, the Red Storm have remained an elite contender, winning their first nine games by an average score of 9-1.

Problem was, Scarborough hadn't played in days, but did what it could to remain fresh.

"We've been able to get outside and practice," Giles said. "If we get outside, it's not as bad. It does take a toll after nine days. We just wanted to play. We got anxious."

"I was really concerned since we haven't played a game for so long," Griffin said. "I gave the kids a couple days off and had light practices to keep it loose. You don't know how they're going to respond. I think they stayed focused."

After coming from nowhere and winning 11 times in 2010 before losing to South Portland in the quarterfinals, McAuley has been even better in 2011, capturing its first 11 contests in increasingly dramatic fashion before falling, 3-1, at home to Thornton Academy Friday.

Since beginning Class A play in 2004, Scarborough had beaten the Lions in all seven meetings, by a composite 76-6 margin. Last year's encounter was representative as the Red Storm blanked host McAuley, 15-0, in five innings.

Monday, Scarborough got off to a hot start, but the Lions hung tough through their final at-bat.

Giles allowed an infield single to McAuley's stellar junior centerfielder Shelby Bryant to start the game, but struck out senior catcher Sam Schildroth and senior second baseman Sara Mercier before Red Storm junior catcher Abby Rutt caught Bryant stealing to end the threat.

Bryant didn't take the field in the bottom of the inning as she appeared to injure her leg.

Scarborough's offense then pounced.

Junior shortstop Mo Hannan hit the first pitch from Lions senior pitcher Jen Field into rightfield to get things started. Burnham followed with a walk and a double-steal put runners at second and third. After Field fanned Rutt, Giles hit a ground ball to senior Kayla Daigle at shortstop. Daigle couldn't handle the ball and Hannan (who would have scored regardless) and Burnham came home to put the hosts ahead to stay. One out later, freshman rightfielder Alyssa Williamson doubled to center, scoring Giles, and it was 3-0.

McAuley got a leadoff single from sophomore first baseman Molly Mack in the top of the second, but Giles retired the next three hitters. The Red Storm went in order in their half of the inning as Bryant returned to action.

"Shelby's fine," said McAuley coach Robby Ferrante. "She got more scared than anything."

The Lions threatened again in the third as senior third baseman Maura Esten led off with a sharp single to right. With one out, Bryant grounded to second with Esten moving all the way up to third after a throwing error by senior first baseman Alana Peoples. Giles ended the threat by retiring Schildroth looking and Scarborough's offense went back to work.

With one out in the bottom of the third, Rutt reached on an error at short. Giles walked and was pinch-run for by sophomore Paige Moore-Haskell. One out later, Rutt and Moore-Haskell pulled off a double steal and Williamson followed with a single to center that scored both runners for a 5-0 advantage.

With two down in the top of the fourth, the visitors got on the board when Daigle lofted a long drive down the leftfield line. The ball clearly had enough distance for a home run, the only question was whether it would stay fair or foul. After a moment's hesitation, the home plate umpire called it a home run, much to Scarborough's chagrin, and McAuley was back within four, 5-1.

Field retired the Red Storm in order in their half of the fourth. With two down in the top of the fifth, Bryant looped a double down the leftfield line. Schildroth couldn't bring her in, however, as she bounced out to short.

Giles' night on the mound was over, but she still had a moment left in the limelight.

After Rutt singled to left with one down, Giles took an outside pitch and launched it to deep right-center. The ball carried all the way over the fence and Scarborough had a 7-1 lead.

"(Field) was throwing outside all night," Giles said. "I'm usually a pull hitter, but I had to focus on going the other way. It happened to be high up there and I got it and it took off. Typically home runs I hit are pulled."

"That's exactly what you want to do with an outside pitch, drive it like that," said Griffin.

Mack hit a one-out single off Hannan in the sixth, but Hannan managed to strike out the side. After a one out walk and steal by Moore-Haskell in the bottom half, freshman Sam Libby (who pitched the inning) retired the next two hitters to keep it 7-1.

Burnham came on to pitch the seventh and got Field to pop out foul to freshman third baseman Megan Murrell, Esten to ground back to the mound and pinch-hitter Nona Gillis to take a third strike to end it.

Giles wasn't overpowering, but managed to scatter five hits and a walk, while striking out five batters as she improved to 4-0.

"It was good because they didn't string hits together," Giles said. "Our defense kept it to one hit per inning."

"Erin pitched a solid game," Griffin said. "She threw a lot of strikes today. She's a work in progress. She's really still not there. She had knee surgery in the late fall. She got released right before the season started. We wanted to get her in the lineup offensively. We weren't sure what she'd give us on the mound. There's a lot more in there, it's just going to take a little while to get out."

Hannan (one hit, three Ks in one inning) and Burnham (one strikeout in a perfect inning) closed it out.

Offensively, Scarborough was led by Giles' home run, three RBI and two runs scored. Williamson had two hits, including a double, and three RBI. Rutt scored twice.

While Scarborough did make one error, that aspect of its game is getting better every time out.

"Our biggest thing is our defense," said Griffin. "We were not a very good defensive team at the beginning of the year. It's been two steps forward and one step back at times. I'm pleased. We're not there yet, but we're getting there. We're feeling more and more comfortable every game out."

For McAuley, Bryant and Mack each had two hits. Daigle had the lone run and RBI. Field dropped to 2-1 on the year after surrendering seven runs (six earned) on five hits and two walks in her five innings. She struck out four. Libby walked one and fanned two in her one hitless and scoreless inning of relief.

"We gave (Scarborough) five outs on inning and four in another inning and a good team will take advantage of that," lamented Ferrante. "The three in the first changed what we had to do. They jumped on us. They're tough, 1 through 9, what they have. They took advantage."

Ferrante praised Field's effort after sophomore Gabby Townsend, who's seen most of the innings this spring, was sidelined with an injury.

"Jen's a No. 1 pitcher on any other team," he said. "We wanted to give the freshman an inning too. Gabby's out until probably playoffs, if that."

Busy week

McAuley (now third in the Western Class A Heals behind South Portland and Scarborough) has a pivotal home game versus Biddeford Wednesday. The Lions visit Portland Friday and close the regular season at home against South Portland May 31.

"We're pleased where we are," Ferrante said. "The kids are fine. We have another big one Wednesday. That will determine if we play at home (in the playoffs). We play well at home. We have two losses in two years."

Scarborough (second in Western A) needs no introduction to its next foe as it finally squares off with South Portland Tuesday at 4 p.m., at Wainwright Farms. For the first time in a long, long time, the Red Storm aren't viewed as the favorite.

"Now that we finished this game, we're looking ahead," Giles said. "I think it's going to be a really great game. It's just two great teams. It's always nice to be No. 1, but we don't have the target on our back like they do. We're almost the underdog going into the game. It would be awesome if we beat them since no one really expects it. Tomorrow gives us insight on what we can do and what we need to improve on. Hopefully it goes well."

"My kids are determined," Griffin added. "We realize every time we turn around, there's another story about South Portland. There might be some people besides Sarborough people rooting for us now. That doesn't usually happen. It might be a little more relaxing. The kids want to get back on top. They can't be so excited they try to do too much. We realize we're going up against a talented team, but not one that has more talent. We feel we're equal to them."

Scarborough is at Sanford Wednesday, hosts Kennebunk Friday and plays two games Saturday, at home versus Cheverus and at Deering. The Red Storm finish the regular season May 31 at Bonny Eagle.

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