PORTLAND—The Deering baseball team sprinted to the finish line this regular season and can now turn its attention to winning yet another Class A state championship.
Or so it hopes.
Monday evening at Hadlock Field, the Rams played their fifth game in an exhausting six-day stretch, but saved their best for last.
On Senior Night, senior starting pitcher Jamie Ross was shaky in the first two innings, but only allowed one run, then pulled a Houdini act in the late innings, but got the job done and he and his teammates rode the big bats of seniors Sam Balzano and John Miranda and junior rightfielder Nick DiBiase as Deering went on to a 7-3 victory over South Portland in the teams’ regular season finale.
The Rams wound up 13-3 on the year, project to host at least one playoff game and will begin their run at what they hope is the school’s ninth Class A title since 1999 June 9 in the quarterfinal round.
South Portland, which bookended its season with losses to Deering, finishes 11-5 and will go on the road for the postseason.
“I’m very happy,” said Rams first-year coach Mark Sutton. “South Portland’s a tough team. They don’t make mistakes. Considering the kids had Prom in the middle of it, I’m happy with winning four of five. I’m proud of them coming through. It’s been a tough stretch and we haven’t practiced in almost two weeks. We’re still making mistakes, but we have time to work on them.”
Deering, a semifinalist in 2010, opened way back on April 22 with a 4-3 triumph at South Portland. The Rams lost their next time out, 4-3, at Biddeford, then rattled off eight straight victories, highlighted by an 11-0 (five inning) home romp over rival Portland. The run ended with a 6-0 home loss to Westbrook. Last Wednesday, Deering outslugged host Gorham, 18-11. The following day, the Rams pushed across a run in the top of the seventh to win at Scarborough, 4-3. Friday, Deering took it on the chin at Cheverus, 15-7, but the Rams bounced back Saturday,the morning after Prom, holding off visiting Marshwood, 3-2.
South Portland hasn’t had to scramble as much to get its games in. The Red Riots bounced back from their Opening Day loss with eight victories in nine outings, highlighted by a 5-0 home victory over Scarborough. South Portland then dropped three of five, with a 13-9 home loss to Gorham Thursday the most recent.
Monday night, the Red Riots had a pair of golden opportunities to get a healthy lead early, but squandered them and rued letting them slip away.
Senior shortstop Paul Reny led off by being hit with a Ross pitch. Junior rightfielder Will Bushey followed with a single to right. Senior first baseman Zach Horton then hit a seeing-eye single to left, scoring Reny. Bushey took third and Horton second on the throw, seemingly setting up the visitors for a big inning.
Instead, Ross caught senior third baseman Evan Indorf looking at strike three and got junior second baseman Dominic Desjardins to line to senior Nick Colucci at shortstop, who flipped to senior Matt Bevilacqua at second for a double play, which ended the threat with just one run scoring.
Deering promptly drew even in its half of the first as senior centerfielder Sam Balzano led off with a double to left-center, moved to third on a wild pitch by South Portland senior pitcher Andrew Richards, then scored when Bevilacqua bounced a single to center. After Colucci hit into a force play at second, Ross grounded into a double play to keep it a 1-1 game.
The Red Riots threatened again in the top of the second when sophomore centerfielder Nick Whitten singled to center and senior designated hitter Connor Vincent singled to right, moving Whitten to third. Ross again bore down, fanning junior leftfielder Shawn Shannon swinging, sophomore catcher Adam Helmke looking and Reny looking to keep the score tied.
“I think the key was when Jamie had a man on first and third with no outs and came back,” Sutton said. “That was pretty much the whole game right there. If something goes wrong there, we could have been down more. I think he likes the high wire. I don’t. He gives me ulcers, but when he gets in those situations he battles and throws strikes.”
DiBiase then led off the bottom half with a bomb to deep right, which found its way over the wall, just short of the U.S. Cellular Pavilion for a solo home run and a 2-1 lead.
“It felt like I barely even swung,” DiBiase said. “I waited on a pitch and it was right there. I was looking for that down the middle and it was. It felt good. I knew I got all of it. It’s the second time I’ve hit one out here.”
“Nick was ready for that pitch,” Sutton said. “I don’t know what the pitch was and I didn’t ask him, but whatever it was, he got it.”
Ross retired South Portland in order in the third, sandwiching two strikeouts around a groundout. In the bottom half, senior third baseman John Hannigan appeared to reach on a throwing error by Reny, but Helmke smartly backed up the throw and gunned down Hannigan trying to advance to second. The Rams went quietly from there.
Ross fanned the first two hitters in the top of the fourth, then got Vincent to ground out to second.
In the bottom of the inning, Deering’s first two hitters went quietly, but Richards worked around DiBiase and walked him and it proved costly when senior catcher John Miranda followed with a double down the leftfield line, which scored DiBiase from first, making it 3-1.
Ross was cruising along until the top of the fifth, when he gave a run back and had to work out of a bases loaded jam. Shannon led off by singling to center. A Ross balk and a wild pitch moved him to third. Helmke fanned looking, suggesting South Portland was on the verge of another squander, but Reny singled to left, cutting the deficit to 3-2. After Bushey popped foul to first, Horton singled to left and a passed ball put both runners in scoring position. Indorf walked to load the bases, but Ross got Desjardins to fly to DiBiase in right to keep it a 3-2 contest.
The Rams answered right back in their half, thanks to the speed of Balzano. With two down, Balzano grounded an apparent single to center, but running hard out of the box, he raced into second with a double. Bevilacqua followed with a single to right for an insurance run.
“Balzano’s single stretched into a double was a big play,” Sutton said. “He did it effortlessly. That made it 4-2.”
Bevilacqua then stole second and went to third on Helmke’s wild throw, but Colucci’s line drive to right was caught by Bushey.
The Red Riots did everything but tie the score again in the sixth. Whitten singled to center leading off, a ball which just eluded Ross on its way to the outfield. Whitten then stole second and took third when Miranda’s throw went into center. After Vincent walked (and was replaced by senior pinch-runner Dillon Leary), Ross struck out Shannon, but with junior pinch-hitter Matt DiBiase at the plate, Leary broke for second and when the throw went through, Whitten stole home and it was 4-3.
DiBiase wound up taking a called third strike, but with Reny batting, Ross threw a wild pitch, putting Leary on third. Reny was intentionally walked, leaving it up to Bushey, but again Ross successfully navigated the high-wire again and got the batter to pop foul to Morgan.
In the bottom of the sixth, Ross popped to right, but Nick DiBiase came through again, with a single to center. Then, in a near carbon copy of his fourth inning RBI, Miranda lined a shot just fair down the leftfield line. When the ball took an unexpected carom off the wall past Shannon, DiBiase, who stumbled around second, was able to come home for a 5-3 lead.
“Twice (John) hit it and I couldn’t tell if it was foul or fair,” DiBiase said. “I heard everyone scream, ‘Run, run!’ around second and I did.”
Richards then wild pitched Miranda to third and Hardy walked. Hardy stole second, but senior designated hitter Anthony Balzano bounced back to the mound. That left it up to Hannigan, who blooped a single to center, scoring both runners for some breathing room.
“I was very happy for Johnny Hannigan,” Sutton said. “His hit opened it up and made it very difficult for them to come back against Jamie in the seventh.”
Ross quickly slammed the door in the seventh, starting by getting Horton to fly down the leftfield line where Hardy ran to the fence in foul ground, reached over and made a spectacular grab. Ross then fanned Indorf and got Desjardins to fly to right to bring the curtain down.
“It’s been really tough,” Miranda said. “It’s been tiring. We’re a little sore. It was really important to win. We needed Heal Points.’
“It’s a big step,” said DiBiase. “It’s been a tough stretch without a lot of rest. We had to get it done.”
Ross (now 5-1) wound up surrendering three runs (two earned) on eight hits. He walked three, had two wild pitches, a balk and hit a batter, but fanned a dozen.
“Jamie’s arm was hurting in the fourth, but he struggled through,” Miranda said.
Offensively, Deering got multiple hits from Balzano, Bevilacqua, DiBiase and Miranda. Balzano and Miranda both doubled twice. DiBiase hit the long home run. Bevilacqua, Hannigan and Miranda all drove in a pair of runs. DiBiase scored three times, Balzano twice. Bevilacqua and Hardy had stolen bases.
Richards fell to 5-2 (both losses came to Deering) after giving up seven runs on nine hits and a walk in six innings. He threw two wild pitches and didn’t strike out a batter.
“(Richards) is a good pitcher,” Sutton said. “He throws off-speed and kept us off-balance. I told the guys before the game that he’ll keep the ball low and throw strikes. He’s not going to overpower you, but he’s crafty, so you have to be patient. He changes pitches well and can be frustrating.”
Offensively, Horton and Whitten both had two hits. Reny, Shannon and Whitten scored. Horton and Reny had RBI. Whitten stole two bases, Vincent one.
“We left a lot of guys on base and against a good team you have to get big hits,” lamented South Portland’s first-year coach Mike Owens. “Two-out RBIs were the difference. They had four or five and we had none. We had chances. (Ross) made big pitches in big spots. He’s definitely a good pitcher. We took good swings early. He settled in and we couldn’t get the two-out RBIs. We’ve talked all year about getting clutch hits. We couldn’t seem to get the big inning. The same thing happened last time.”
South Portland was in fifth in the Western Class A Heal Points standings prior to the game and will likely finish fifth or sixth, meaning they’ll start the playoffs on the road, perhaps at Deering or Scarborough. The Red Riots will regroup for their second season and look to make some noise in June.
“We’re definitely on the road,” Owens said. “I’m not sure if we’ll hold on to that five spot. We could drop down. All the teams in the playoffs are good. We’ll just see where we’re at and we’ll play it out. Hopefully we’ll play our best ball in the playoffs. We’ve stayed on schedule this year. We have a week to work on little stuff, get rest and get healthy. We’ll probably get a scrimmage in against a Class B team. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. We didn’t have the greatest expectations coming in. We’re not playing our best ball right now, but we have that week to put in the work.”
Deering was fourth in the Heals entering the game and hopes to move up. The Rams are assured of hosting at least one playoff game, but in the meantime, will be glad to simply return to somewhat of a normal schedule.
“I think we’ll be pretty good,” Miranda said. “Everybody has their on and off games. If we have ours on, we’ll be all set.”
“We’ve got some momentum,” said DiBiase. “We’ll go from there. June is our time of year.”
“Having a nine-day layoff can be good, but I think high school kids like to be in a routine,” Sutton added. “We’ll try to get on the practice field the same time every day and try to set up a scrimmage. We might be able to edge out Scarborough. It will be close. We’ll get one home game for sure. We might end up playing South Portland again.”
SP- 100 011 0- 3 8 2
D- 110 113 x- 7 9 1
Horton singled to left, Reny scored.
Bevilacqua singled to center, S. Balzano scored.
DiBiase homered to right, DiBiase scored.
Miranda doubled down leftfield line, DiBiase scored.
Reny singled to left, Shannon scored.
Bevilacqua singled to right, S. Balzano scored.
Whitten stole home.
Miranda doubled to left, S. Balzano scored. Hannigan singled to center, Miranda and Hardy scored.
Home run- D, DiBiase
Doubles- D, S. Balzano, Miranda 2
RBI- SP, Horton, Reny; D, Bevilacqua, Hannigan, Miranda 2, DiBiase
Repeat hitters- SP, Horton, Whitten; D, S. Balzano, Bevilacqua, DiBiase, Miranda
Runs- SP, Reny, Shannon, Whitten; D, DiBiase 3, S. Balzano 2, Hardy, Miranda
Stolen bases- D, Bevilacqua, Hardy; SP, Whitten 2, Vincent
Richards and Helmke; Ross and Miranda
Richards (L, 5-2) 6 IP 9 H 7 R 7 ER 1 BB 0 K 2 WP
Ross (W, 5-1) 7 IP 8 H 3 R 2 ER 3 BB 12 K 2 WP 1 HBP 1 Balk