The 2010 high school baseball playoffs got underway Tuesday afternoon when the Flyers of Waynflete, coming off their best regular season in seven years, visited Old Orchard Beach in a Western Class C preliminary round contest (please see Web site for game story).
The Western A playoffs begin Thursday when three-time defending state champion and top seed Deering hosts No. 8 Cheverus in the quarterfinals.
Portland fell short this spring for the first time in 27 years.
You could make the argument that this is the finest Waynflete team this century. The Flyers, who won a combined total of six games and missed the postseason altogether the past three years, finished 6-7, which was good enough to give the Flyers the No. 9 seed in Western C.
“It’s been a great year for Waynflete baseball,” said Flyers coach Steve Kautz. “Over the past three years we’ve been able to stabilize the program with 20, 17, and 19 players respectively and this has allowed us to play more games and to improve. To finish 8-7, which includes two non-MPA games, after several years of just two or three wins is an incredible accomplishment for the team, and I hope it brings even more interest to the program.”
“All of the kids have contributed something special this year,” Kautz added. “We’ve gotten tremendous contributions from our underclassmen. We are generally starting three or four ninth or 10th graders, but our seniors have really stood out. It’s gratifying to see them enjoy some success after some lean years. From the first day of practice, our seniors and junior captain Tom Ryan have led by example, showing everyone else how hard they were willing to work to turn things around. After we lost a few bad games early in the season, it was the seniors who continued to push everyone in practice, reassuring that we had in fact improved and that we were close. This continued right through the last day of the season when before the games against Traip, the coaches did not address the team. We let the seniors run the show and they went out there and swept and the seniors all had big days contributing to our wins. Every member of this team has done something special to help us get where we are.”
Waynflete went 1-2 versus Old Orchard Beach (9-6-1) in the regular season, losing, 8-2, on the road April 26 and 13-2, on the road May 10, before winning, 3-2, at home May 17. The schools have no playoff history.
“It’s an exciting matchup,” Kautz said. “Although they beat us twice early in the season, we did not catch the ball well in those games and we felt like we did not play anywhere near our potential. When we played them the third time, it all came together for us and we won by throwing strikes and playing smart defense. OOB has some very strong players at key positions and we’ll need to be at our best. I know the guys will be up for it and I know that our seniors will be leading the way.”
If the Flyers could spring the upset, they would go to top-ranked Dirigo (14-2) Thursday in the quarterfinals. Waynflete has never faced the Cougars.
We meet again
Way back on April 24, Deering’s 50-game win streak came to an end with a 5-4 loss at Cheverus. The Rams struggled at times in the regular season, but won four of their final five contests, including a 3-0 home triumph over the Stags last Wednesday to wind up in a familiar spot, atop the Western A Heals with a 12-4 mark.
“I’m not sure a lot of people thought we’d end up first, but we did it,” said Deering coach Mike Coutts. “It was an up-and-down season. We had to figure out our personality at the start of the year. In the second half of the season, we started to hit. We led the (Southern Maine Activities Association) in hitting. We were middle-of-the-pack or below midway through. All year we played good defense. We made 13 errors in 16 games. When you play good defense, you have a chance to win.”
Cheverus, which started 6-0 before cooling off, managed to qualify for the playoffs for the second year in a row.
“We were very fortunate to get into the playoffs,” said Stags coach Mac McKew. “After our loss to Deering to end our regular season, it took the outcomes of a few other teams’ final games to get in and again, we were fortunate. It has been an interesting season to say the least with the parity that we have experienced.”
Thursday at 4 p.m., at Hadlock Field, the Stags and Rams will meet in the postseason for the second straight season. Last year, Deering was a 7-3 semifinal round victor. The Rams also beat the Stags in the 1993 regional final, the 1998 preliminary round and the 2003 semis.
“If we go out and pitch and play good defense, we’ll be fine,” said Coutts. “We don’t put too much pressure on ourselves. We’ll do our best. Any team can beat anybody this year, which is great for the league and great for baseball. I’ve been saying it’ll come down to the team that can stay strong mentally over three games.”
“We’re thrilled to still be playing and getting the opportunity to play Deering for a third time this season,” McKew said. “The players know that it is wide open and the team that plays with the most effort and mental toughness will come out on top.”
The winner will advance to Saturday’s semifinals (Deering would host, Cheverus would travel) against either No. 4 Westbrook (11-5) or No. 5 South Portland (11-5).
During the regular season, the Rams lost, 9-6, at the Blue Blazes on May 20 and rallied for a stirring 4-3 home win over the Red Riots two days later. The Stags lost at home to both prospective foes, 4-3 to South Portland May 13 and 6-2 to Westbrook May 25.
Portland’s absence from the playoffs isn’t a huge surprise considering how young the Bulldogs were this spring, but after Portland got off to a stunning 4-1 start this season, which included wins over preseason favorite Westbrook and Deering, a postseason bid appeared imminent. Instead, the Bulldogs dropped five of their final seven games, including a 7-1 loss at Westbrook last Wednesday to wind up 8-8, good for 11th in the region (only eight teams qualified).
“It was a tough second half to the season after such a surprising start,” said Portland coach Mike McCullum. “We fell one win short of our team goal of making the playoffs. After beating three out of the top four teams in the Heals, we just couldn’t get past the teams in-between.
“All in all, I still feel it was a successful season considering at times we had five freshmen in our lineup. I was very pleased with the contributions of our seniors early on. We lost three starters early for the year due to injury and seniors that probably wouldn’t have seen a lot of playing time this year really stepped in and contributed a great deal. I was proud of the way our team accepted their roles and did what they could to help our team win.”
McCullum, who singled out the tremendous play of senior pitcher Adam Gould and freshmen Caleb Fraser and Nick Volger, feels the Bulldogs have a bright future.
“Next season we’ll still be young, but more experienced at the varsity level,” he said. “I look forward to working with this young talent over the next few years and working toward my goal of getting Portland High baseball back on top.”
The Western A Final will be played Tuesday of next week (7 p.m.) at St. Joseph’s College. This year’s Class A state final is Saturday, June 19, also at St. Joe’s, beginning at noon.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com
The Cheverus and Deering baseball teams have split two games this season and meet for a third time in the regional quarterfinals Thursday.