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PORTLAND—For a team that hadn’t taken part in the postseason in four years, the Deering Rams sure acted like they belonged Tuesday afternoon.
Visiting rival Cheverus in a Western Class A baseball preliminary round contest at Kevin McDonald Memorial Field, the Rams erupted for 17 hits and got a strong pitching performance from senior Sam Luebbert as they won a playoff game for the first time since 2010.
Deering jumped to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning on an RBI single from junior second baseman Pat Viola and an RBI groundout from sophomore designated hitter Orey Dutton.
After Luebbert worked around three errors in the first two innings, the Rams stretched their lead to 6-0 in the fourth, as sophomore first baseman Spencer Todd and sophomore leftfielder Ian Westphal were both hit by pitches with the bases loaded and senior shortstop Nick Bevilacqua added a two-run single.
The Stags loaded the bases with no outs in their half of the fourth, but only managed to score one run as a double play short-circuited the rally. Deering added a run in the fifth, as after Cheverus missed an opportunity to record the third out on a rundown, Todd’s RBI single made it 7-1.
The Stags again had a great chance to answer in the bottom half after loading the bases with no out, but once again, a double play limited Cheverus to a single run.
In the sixth, the Rams effectively ended the competitive phase of the contest as Viola hit a two-run single. In the seventh, junior centerfielder Dominick Bernard added a two-run single and Viola drove in one more run and Luebbert slammed the door from there, thanks to another double play, as Deering prevailed, 12-2.
Viola had four hits and drove in four runs, Bevilacqua had three hits and two RBI and Luebbert went the distance and threw a five-hitter as the Rams improved to 11-6, ended Cheverus’ campaign at 9-8 and advanced to set up a compelling semifinal round showdown at top-ranked Portland (12-4) Thursday at 7 p.m. at Hadlock Field.
“This means everything,” said Luebbert. “It’s fulfillment. We’ve accomplished a lot this year. We’re a young team and we’ve showed what we can do We’re really good friends. We’re like a family and when we’re hitting, everything is working.”
While Cheverus, Deering and Portland have all had their moments as the best team in the city and often in the state over the years, all three teams haven’t been strong at the same time very often this century. The trio’s combined 31 wins this spring were the best since 2011 (37) and this is the first season since 2009 that all three squads reached the playoffs.
While the Stags have been contenders the past few seasons, the Rams had not, but that changed this spring when former Deering standout Josh Stowell, who had served as a Cheverus assistant, returned to the program as coach.
Deering, which won a total of 10 games between 2012-14, gained some early confidence and never looked back, going 10-6 to earn the No. 9 seed in Western A.
Cheverus, which lost to South Portland in last year’s quarterfinals, got off to a 9-3 start this season, but dropped its final four to slip to 9-7 and the No. 8 spot.
The Stags beat the visiting Rams, 10-5, back on May 21.
Prior to Tuesday, the teams had played five times in the playoffs between 1993 and 2010 with Deering winning each of them (see sidebar, below). The most recent encounter was a 4-1 Rams’ victory in the 2010 quarterfinals, their most recent playoff triumph.
Tuesday, Deering did it again.
With surprising ease.
The tone was set immediately as the first two Rams reached on infield hits and came around to score.
Senior rightfielder Kevin Goldberg led off against Cheverus junior pitcher Alex Jacobs and hit a ball to the right of freshman shortstop Griffin Watson before beating the throw. Bevilacqua then reached on a slow roller to sophomore third baseman Jack Casale. Jacobs struck out Bernard, but Viola laced a single to right, chasing home Goldberg and moving Bevilacqua to third to put the Rams ahead to stay. Dutton then grounded to Watson, who threw to junior second baseman Matthew Lapoint for a force out, but Dutton beat the throw to first, allowing Bevilacqua to come home to make it 2-0. Sophomore third baseman James Sinclair followed with a sharp single to right, but junior rightfielder Jensen Lapoint fired a perfect throw to Casale, who tagged out Dutton for the third out.
The Stags had a golden opportunity to answer in their half, but setting the tone for a game-long theme, they squandered it.
Sophomore catcher Logan McCarthy led off against Luebbert by grounding to Bevilacqua, but the shortstop couldn’t field it cleanly. Watson then bunted the ball in front of the plate and Minervino’s throw to second was wild, allowing Watson to reach. Luebbert responded, getting Jensen Lapoint to pop out to first, Brooks to fly to center and senior leftfielder Alex Libby to ground out to second.
Jacobs set Deering down in order in the top of the second, getting Minervino to line to right, Todd to ground out to short and Westphal to strike out.
Luebbert got junior designated hitter Chris Vallee to chase strike three on a 3-2 pitch and induced a ground out to second off the bat of Casale, but Matthew Lapoint reached on an error by Sinclair. Luebbert then ended the threat by striking out senior centerfielder Derek Hammond.
In the third, Goldberg struck out, but Bevilacqua singled to right-center. Bernard then grounded out to Watson, who stepped on second for a force out, then threw to first to complete a double play.
In the bottom half, Luebbert retired Cheverus in order, getting McCarthy to ground back to the mound, Watson to strike out and Jensen Lapoint to ground out to third.
The Rams got some breathing room in the top of the fourth.
After Viola struck out, Jacobs lost control of the strike zone, walking Dutton and hitting Sinclair with a pitch. Minervino singled to left to load the bases and Jacobs hit Todd to bring home Dutton for a 3-0 lead. When Jacobs then hit Westphal to score Sinclair to make it 4-0, that did it for the Stags’ starter.
Senior Matt Gedaro came on in relief and got Goldberg to ground into a second-to-home force for the second out, but Bevilacqua came through with a clutch two-run single to left to score Todd and Westphal for a 6-0 advantage. Bernard grounded into a force out to end the frame.
The Stags appeared ready to rally in the bottom half when Brooks lined the hosts’ first hit, a single to left, Libby reached on a Bevilacqua error and Vallee singled to right, but Luebbert got Casale to ground to Bevilacqua, who stepped on second, then threw to first for the double play with Brooks scoring. Matthew Lapoint reached on catcher’s interference, but junior pinch-hitter Jack Whaley struck out to keep the deficit at 6-1.
Deering got that run right back in the fifth.
Viola singled to right leading off, Dutton reached on an infield hit and after the runners moved up on a Gedaro wild pitch, Sinclair looked at strike three and Minervino popped out to first. It appeared Cheverus would escape as Viola was trapped off third, but the Stags botched the rundown, keeping the inning alive. Todd made them pay with a single to left, scoring Viola to make it 7-1. Westphal lined out to second for the third out.
Cheverus immediately loaded the bases in the bottom half, as McCarthy walked on a 3-2 pitch, Watson singled to right on an 0-2 pitch and Jensen Lapoint walked, but after Brooks just missed clearing the bases as his deep fly ball to right was caught by Goldberg (McCarthy scored on the sacrifice fly making it 7-2), Libby grounded to Viola, who threw to Bevilacqua for a force and Bevilacqua threw on to first to complete the inning-ending double play.
Again, the Rams’ offense got the run back with another to boot.
Goldberg got the sixth inning started with a single to right-center. After Bevilacqua lined to left, Bernard grounded a double just inside first with Goldberg moving to third. Viola then singled to right and Goldberg and Bernard both scored to make it 9-2. That ended Gedaro’s outing as he was replaced by Hammond, who struck out Dutton and hit Sinclair, then, after a wild pitch, got Minervino to ground out to second.
Luebbert started the bottom of the sixth by fanning Vallee swinging and catching Casale looking at strike three, but Matthew Lapoint walked, Hammond singled to left and McCarthy singled to left to load the bases. Again, Cheverus would be stymied, however, as Watson grounded out to third.
Not that it needed them, but Deering tacked on three more runs in the seventh to end all doubt.
Todd led off with a ringing double to the hill in deep left-center. Westphal added a bloop single as sophomore pinch-runner Riley Bartell held at second. Goldberg looked at strike three, but Bevilacqua reached on an error. Bernard then singled to right, scoring Bartell and Westphal. Viola then drove in his fourth run, Bevilacqua, with a single to right, to make it 12-2. Hammond fanned Dutton and Sinclair to end the frame.
Luebbert finished it off in the bottom half. He struck out Jensen Lapoint and after Brooks walked, Libby lined the ball to Viola and Viola threw to first to double off Brooks and Deering had a 12-2 victory, its first in the postseason in nearly five years.
“We got beaten up by them earlier in the season and came back with a vengeance today,” said Viola. “We came out ready to play. This is huge for the seniors.”
“The boys came to play and played well, outside of our defense early,” Stowell said. “All the seniors were ready today. We capitalized on our momentum.”
Viola had four singles in five at-bats, drove in four runs and scored once.
“Everybody recorded a hit,” Viola said. “We saw the ball well. I got behind in the count, but I went the other way with it.”
Bevilacqua added three hits, scored twice and had two RBI. Bernard, Goldberg and Todd also had multiple hits.
“We swung the bats well,” Stowell said. “We’ve been consistent all season. We were second in the league in hitting.”
Goldberg and Westphal touched home twice and Bartell, Bernard, Dutton, Sinclair and Todd had one run apiece. Bernard and Todd had two RBI apiece, while Dutton and Westphal each had one.
Deering left nine runners on, but it didn’t matter.
Luebbert improved to 5-2 after allowing two runs on five hits in seven innings. He walked four and struck out seven.
“My curveball and my fastball worked today.,” said Luebbert. “You have to have short-term memory and move on to the next play. I’ve struggled with that four years, but I’ve learned to keep going.”
“Sam’s pitched himself in and out of jams this year, but he doesn’t let it bother him too much,” said Stowell. “He gets refocused and throws strikes.”
Luebbert’s teammates made four errors, but those were overshadowed by three critical double plays.
“Sam pitched very well,” Viola said. “He got us ground balls to spin a couple times. The double plays were big. Very big.”
Cheverus, which closed on a five-game skid, got runs from Brooks and McCarthy and an RBI from Brooks, but stranded nine runners. Jacobs fell to 3-2 after giving up six earned runs on six hits in 3.1 innings. He walked one, fanned four and hit three batters. Gedaro surrendered three runs on three hits in two innings. He struck out one and threw a wild pitch. Hammond gave up three runs on four hits in 1.2 innings. He fanned four and hit a batter.
“Our effort wasn’t there at the beginning,” said Cheverus coach Mac McKew. “I was hopeful, but we dug a hole early that we couldn’t get out of. We only gave up two runs in the first, then had an opportunity to get a run or two back, but we couldn’t capitalize when we had to. It just wasn’t our day, but you can’t dig a hole like that in a playoff game and dig out. I think we’re fairly even teams depending on the day and the pitcher and so forth.
“We didn’t know what to expect coming into the season. We could have been 4-12, so 9-7 is good. Libby came out of nowhere. Gedaro pitched well. We’ll get back to work in Legion ball this summer and look forward to next year. We don’t graduate that many starters. We return a lot. The key will be pitching. Brooks will pitch next year and he’s the real deal. We’ve been cautious with him. He, Jacobs and Casale, that’s where we’ll start from next spring.”
Deering now has the daunting task of beating red-hot Portland at Hadlock Field Thursday night. Sophomore lefthander Colby Dame is expected to get the start against junior Dan Marzilli, a former Ram.
Deering lost at Hadlock, 12-4, May 29. The ancient rivals have played eight previous times in the postseason with the Rams taking five of those meetings, including the most recent (10-0 in six innings in the 2009 quarterfinals).
Don’t be surprised if Deering finds a way to keep the good times rolling.
“We want to keep the fairy tale going,” said Luebbert. “Colby will be on the mound and I think he’s going to throw a gem.”
“We have to come out ready to play,” Viola said. “We have to hit and play solid defense and we should be fine. We’re having a blast. We came in as an underdog and we’ve just played.”
“We didn’t have a great game against them last time,” Stowell added. “We had mental mistakes and errors and left balls up. This time of year, we can hit, but we have to throw strikes and play defense to win games. They’re number one for a reason, but if we take care of business, I think we have a shot to beat those guys. It should be fun.”
Deering senior starting pitcher Sam Luebbert rares back and throws a strike. Luebbert earned his fifth victory of the season in his first-ever playoff appearance.
Cheverus junior starter Alex Jacobs throws a pitch.
Deering senior shortstop Nick Bevilacqua records a force out and throws on to first base for a double play.
Cheverus senior Derek Hammond snares the ball in rightfield.
Cheverus senior Alex Libby makes contact.
Cheverus sophomore catcher Logan McCarthy records a force out at home on Deering junior Luciano Minervino.
Deering junior Luciano Minervino takes a swing.
Deering junior Pat Viola dives into third base after surviving a rundown.
Deering sophomore Ian Westphal celebrates with classmate Spencer Todd after scoring in the fourth inning.
Deering junior second baseman Pat Viola snares a line drive to start a game-ending double play.
2010 Western A quarterfinal
@ Deering 4 Cheverus 1
2009 Western A semifinal
@ Deering 7 Cheverus 3
2003 Western A semifinal
@ Deering 5 Cheverus 0
1998 Western A preliminary round
@ Deering 4 Cheverus 3
1993 Western A Final
Deering 13 Cheverus 5
Deering senior pitcher Sam Luebbert (center) is congratulated by junior second baseman Pat Viola (left) and sophomore first baseman Spencer Todd following the Rams’ 12-2 win at Cheverus in Tuesday’s Western Class A preliminary round.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.