By Eric Carson
PORTLAND — Deering senior Regan Flaherty on Saturday reminded everybody that he’s not just a big bat in the league’s most potent offensive attack.
Flaherty took the hill during the top-ranked Rams’ Western Class A semifinal with No. 4 Cheverus, mowing down 10 Stags’ hitters by way of the K, leading Deering to a 7-3 victory on a sun-filled Saturday afternoon at Hadlock Field.
Flaherty, a lefthander, abandoned his breaking stuff late in the game in favor of his fastball. It proved to be a wise decision, as the heater helped Flaherty fan the side in the final inning, leading Deering a step closer to its third straight Class A state championship.
Offensively, Deering senior Jack Heary delivered the knockout blow, hammering a belt-high fastball to the gap in right-center to drive in a pair of runs and break the game open for good. Heary’s two-run double in the bottom of the fourth inning stretched a one-run lead to a comfortable 6-3 advantage, erasing any momentum the Stags had gained with a two-run rally in the top of the frame.
“He left me a high fastball and I just went with the pitch,” said Heary. “They had just scored a few runs and made a few nice plays. Momentum was starting to swing a little bit in their favor. It was important for us to come right back and answer.”
With the win, Deering (18-0) advances to the Class A West regional final on Wednesday at 3 p.m. in Standish on the campus of St. Joseph’s College. The Rams will meet the third-seeded Scarborough Red Storm (14-4), perhaps the one team capable of ending their epic run with senior ace Chris Bernard rested and ready to take the ball. The Red Storm advanced with a 13-6 win at home over tenth-ranked South Portland (10-9). Deering pummeled host Scarborough 22-4 (in five innings) back on May 9, but Bernard did not pitch in that contest.
In a pitching matchup for the ages, Bernard, Maine’s 2009 Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year, will face Deering senior righthander Taylor Candage (5-0), last season’s Mr. Maine Baseball.
Against the Stags on Saturday, Deering (which previously eliminated No. 8 Portland, 10-0, in a six inning contest Thursday in the quarterfinals) jumped ahead 1-0 in the first inning on a single, a walk and a sacrifice fly.
Lightning-fast sophomore Sam Balzano set the table once again with a leadoff single off Cheverus lefthander Joey Royer. Balzano, as always, easily stole second, and senior shortstop Matt Powers followed with a walk. Flaherty, in the three-hole, lifted a fly ball to leftfield that allowed Balzano to tag and move to third, and Candage lined hard to center as Balzano tagged and scored for the early 1-0 lead.
Cheverus (11-7), coming off an impressive year in which it knocked off the Westbrook Blue Blazes in the last game of regular season to earn the No. 4 seed, then enjoyed a 5-0 quarterfinal round win against Marshwood, came right back and scored a run in the top of the second inning to tie the score 1-1.
Senior catcher Jake Watson walked with one out, freshman Nick Melville grounded to first and the Rams forced Watson at second for the second out. But the speedy Melville stole second and came around to score on a single by Jake Bushey to tie score.
Royer pitched a great game for Cheverus, scattering nine hits, striking out four and walking three, but the Rams’ relentless attack came back and tacked on three runs in the bottom of the second inning to take a 4-1 lead.
“Royer pitched better than the score indicated,” said Cheverus coach Mac McKew. “Three of the runs came after some errors and they got two more after two outs. We didn’t play smart in the field. In the end, this team had a great run, a great season. If we were going to get knocked out, we wanted to get knocked out by the best. That’s what happened today.”
Deering senior Marc Ouimet reached on an error, and then went to third on a single to right by senior transfer Luke Hammond, who advanced to second when the Stags tried to cut down Ouimet at third. Sophomore Nick Colucci grounded out to third, but Ouimet scored the Rams’ second run on the play as Hammond went to third. Deering junior Jake Nichols popped to short for the second out, but Balzano singled to score Hammond for the third run. Balzano moved to third on a single by Powers and scored on a passed ball to give the Rams a 4-1 lead.
Flaherty allowed only three hits. He retired the side in order in the third, but the Stags scored two runs to get back in the game in the top of the fourth inning. Senior Mick DiStasio walked, and sophomore Nic Lops grounded into what looked like a tailor-made double play, but Colucci kicked it at second and everyone was safe. With runners on first and second, Flaherty threw wild to first attempting to pick-off Lops, and both runners moved up a bag to second and third on the play. Melville came through again, singling up the middle to score both runners and make it a 4-3 game.
But in the bottom of the fourth, Royer walked Flaherty, Candage singled, and Heary’s double cleared the bases and put the Rams back in control at 6-3.
In the bottom of the fifth, Deering added a single run for the final 7-3 score. Hammond dropped down a beautiful drag bunt for a single and came around to score on a Colucci single, and then beat the throw home with a headfirst slide on a double-steal play from third base.
“I couldn’t ask for a better season,” said Hammond, who transferred to Deering this year. “This is a great group of guys that really took me in and accepted me. I love it down here. When they got within a run I was probably the only person in that dugout that was even a little nervous. These guys expect to win. They know that they are going to win and that someone else will step up and get the job done each game.”
Cheverus freshman Nick Melville slid safely into home during Saturday’s Western A semifinal at Hadlock Field. Despite Melville’s heroics, the Stags were eliminated, 7-3, by two-time champion Deering.