Scarborough sets up SP showdown by blanking TA
SCARBOROUGH—Now, it's official.
The highly-anticipated Western Class A softball final between perennial powerhouse Scarborough and defending Class A state champion South Portland is set in stone after Saturday's rainy semifinal action.
While the top-ranked Red Riots were having an easy time of it versus No. 4 McAuley, No. 2 Scarborough was pushed to the limit by the third-ranked Golden Trojans of Thornton Academy at the Kippy Mitchell Athletic Center.
But the Red Storm rose to the occasion time and again, riding an early home run from freshman standout Alyssa Williamson and an unearned run late to produce the necessary offense, which along with the superb, clutch pitching of junior ace Mo Hannan, who did the rest, Scarborough improved to 17-1 with a 2-0 victory, ending the Golden Trojans' season at 15-3.
The Red Storm will meet the 18-0, top-ranked and defending Class A champion Red Riots Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., at St. Joseph's College in Standish.
"We're ready for it," said Williamson. "We've waited all season to play them in a championship game. We're confident and feel we have a really good chance."
Dueling and dealing
While the eyes of Western Class A softball have been almost exclusively focused on South Portland and Scarborough this spring, Thornton Academy has more than held its own, beating the other 14 teams on its schedule, while losing only to the Red Riots and Red Storm in the regular year.
Friday, the Golden Trojans outlasted No. 6 Biddeford, 1-0, in the quarterfinals to advance.
Scarborough was its usual powerhouse self in 2011, beating every team but South Portland to wind up second in the region. Thursday, in the quarterfinals, the Red Storm were able to get in an official game before the thunder and lightning came and beat No. 7 Noble, 9-0, in five innings.
In the regular season meeting between the Red Storm and Golden Trojans, Scarborough dominated until late before holding on for a 5-2 triumph behind Hannan's pitching and a Williamson home run.
The teams met in the 2010 semifinals (a 4-0 Red Storm victory). They also squared off in the 2005 quarterfinals (a 1-0, 10 inning Scarborough win).
Saturday's game was in doubt until the very end.
Hannan set the tone in the top of the first, getting senior centerfielder Michelle Cote to line to center before fanning senior shortstop Lauren Titus and her opposite number, junior pitcher Julia Geaumont.
Geaumont took the hill in the bottom half and set the Red Storm down in order.
After Hannan retired the first two hitters in the second, junior leftfielder Meghan Agger beat out an infield single, but freshman third baseman Jordon Agger struck out to end the threat.
Scarborough then came up and got the only run it would need.
After sophomore third baseman Erin Giles grounded out, Williamson got ahead in the count and rocketed a blast well over the rightfield wall for a 1-0 lead.
"(The pitch) was more inside," said Williamson. "(Julia) tried to keep it outside on me, since she knows that I like the inside ones. She had to go inside. I knew it. It felt good. It was really important to get the lead."
"(Alyssa's) quite a player," Scarborough coach Tom Griffin said. "She's really dedicated herself to this sport. She's played out of state the past couple years, on a top level team. She knows how to handle herself. She's a special kid."
Sophomore shortstop Marissa O'Toole was then hit by a pitch, but Geaumont fanned the next two hitters to keep it 1-0.
Both pitchers retired the side in order in the third and Hannan struck out the side in the top of the fourth.
In the bottom half, junior catcher Abby Rutt led off with a double to left-center, but Giles lined out to second and both Williamson and O'Toole bounced out to strand her.
The visitors then had a golden opportunity to draw even in the fifth.
Freshman designated player Erin Brayden led off with a single to center. Meghan Agger then sacrificed Brayden to second and Agger reached when senior second baseman Lauren Aceto dropped the throw at first. After Jordon Agger bounced back to the mound to move the runners to second and third, junior second baseman Chrissy Remmes attempted to bunt, but popped out to Hannan. Hannan then ended the inning by striking out senior first baseman Hannah Ebling and Scarborough clung to its lead.
"After we got out of that jam, we felt so much better and more confident," said Williamson.
In the bottom half of the fifth, freshman designated player Megan Murrell was hit by a pitch with one out and Aceto sacrificed sophomore pinch-runner Paige Moore-Haskell to second. Hannan couldn't help herself, however, bouncing out to first.
After Cote was barely thrown out at first by Giles to lead off the top of the sixth, Hannan struck out freshman pinch-hitter Morgan Dube. Geaumont got a threat going with a single to center and junior pinch-runner Katie Kalagias stole second, but on an overthrow by Rutt, Kalagias attempted to get to third, but was gunned down by O'Toole, ending the inning.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Red Storm got a modicum of breathing room.
Junior leftfielder Dominique Burnham and Rutt hit back-to-back singles and when Burnham went to third after Rutt's hit, Rutt moved up to second on the throw. Giles then hit a ground ball back to Geaumont, who threw home to junior catcher Katherine Zafirson, who pt the tag on Burnham.
Williamson walked to load the bags, but O'Toole hit back to Geaumont, who threw to Zafirson for the force out. Thornton Academy appeared primed to get out of the inning when Farnkoff hit a bouncer back to the mound, but the ball took a funny hop and rolled up Geaumont's arn to score Giles for a 2-0 advantage.
Leading off the top of the seventh, senior rightfielder Kristen Duross singled off of Hannan and was wild pitched to second. After Brayden fanned, Meghan Agger reached on a high chopper than went off Giles' glove, moving Duross to third and putting Agger on first as the tying run. Kalagias then struck out, leaving it up to senior pinch-hitter Vanessa McCrum, who with two strikes, bounced out to O'Toole, ending the game.
"It was nervewracking, but it's good coming out of a close game and knowing we came out on top," Hannan said. "We knew defense would win this game. One run helped so much. That second one felt good. I knew I could give up one."
"We knew it would be a struggle," Griffin said. "We hoped we could open up the game, but it didn't happen. (Thornton Academy's) a great team. I'm pleased we worked hard to play this game on our field. A lot of times that's what it comes down to."
Hannan (now 8-1) scattered five hits and had a wild pitch, but did not allow a walk in her shutout effort. She struck out 11.
"I felt pretty good," Hannan said. "It wasn't the best day ever, but it was good. They put the ball in play, but our defense reacted well. I was pretty happy."
"I have a lot of capable arms, but Mo has a lot of experience," Griffin said. "She's such a mentally-tough kid. She rises to the occasion. She's the best ballplayer I've ever had, in 20-some-odd years. She has it all, hitting, fielding, throwing, pitching, running. No question, she's the best all-around player in the state. The whole package."
There wasn't much offense for Scarborough, but Williamson made sure there was enough with her home run. Rutt was a multiple hitter. Giles and Williamson had the runs. O'Toole stole a base.
For Thornton Academy, Geaumont took the loss and finished the year 15-3 despite allowing just four hits, one earned run, three hits and two hit batters in six innings. She had two Ks.
Offensively, Meghan Agger was a repeat hitter and Kalagias stole a base. Ultimately, the Golden Trojans were done in by stranding five runners.
"It's outstanding, overpowering pitching," lamented Thornton Academy coach John Provost. "You won't see 10 or 15 runs in the playoffs. They're going to be one- or two-run games. (Scarborough) played well."
Thornton Academy loses a solid core of seniors, but as always, should contend in 2012.
"I started with this senior class," Provost said. "They've been four-year starters. We wanted this for them more than anything else, but it's been a great run."
Wednesday night showdown
Since 2005, Scarborough and South Portland have set the bar for Western Class A excellence, combining for five regional and three state championships.
The Red Storm won the 2007 and 2009 state titles and the Red Riots dethroned them last spring with a stirring 5-2 win in the regional final en route to their first-ever championship, 1-0, over Bangor.
South Portland also beat Scarborough, 1-0, in the 2005 Western A Final. The Red Storm won the other five encounters, in the 2003 semifinals (3-0), 2004 quarterfinals (3-0), 2007 regional final (7-1), 2008 semis (1-0) and 2009 regional final (2-0).
This year, the Red Riots feature a potent offense and boast Maine Gatorade Player of the Year, senior Alexis Bogdanovich, on the mound.
On May 24, Scarborough lost at South Portland, 3-1, but as the underdog for the first time against the Red Riots in the postseason, feels it can play with and beat the defending champs this time around.
"We don't really have that much pressure on us," Williamson said. "We're just going out to have fun. We'll try out best and whatever happens happens."
"I'm excited," Hannan said. "I really want to play in that game. We're ready. The last game was close. It could have gone either way. We'll see. Hopefully we'll have a happier ending this time."
"We have great respect for them and think they're a great team, but we know we can play with them," Griffin added. "We had our chances in the last game. Bogdanovich is a great pitcher and they have great hitters 1 through 9, but we feel if we play our game and if we put the ball in play, we feel we have a chance to beat them. We've waited a whole year for this. The kids worked hard in the offseason to have this opportunity. We're glad to have it."