By Eric Carson
PORTLAND— Deering senior righthander Taylor Candage took the ball completely rested for the first time all season and made the Portland Bulldogs pay for it.
Candage allowed just two hits, struck out eight and did not issue a walk in a complete game shutout, leading the top-ranked and unbeaten Rams to a 10-0 victory over the eighth-ranked Bulldogs in Western Class A quarterfinal action on a chilly Thursday night at Hadlock Field.
Candage, last season’s Mr. Maine Baseball and Deering’s Forecaster Spring Athlete of the Year, dominated the Bulldogs from start to finish, retiring the side in order in four of his six innings of work with complete mastery of the strike zone.
Candage (4-0) struck out at least one Bulldog in each inning, induced seven groundball outs and three pop-flies to the outfield for outs, in a game called in favor of the mercy rule in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“Candage was awesome tonight,” said first-year Deering coach Mike Coutts. “That’s the best he’s thrown all season. He had complete command of all of his pitches. He didn’t walk anybody and that was nice to see. I think he was rested. He caught a lot for us this season and I think it started to catch up with him. He’s pitched eight innings in the last 12 days.”
The Deering offense, led by senior Marc Ouimet, pounded out 10 hits and scored five times in the first inning and three times in the bottom of the second to take an 8-0 lead that ultimately ended the Bulldogs first season under coach Mike McCullum at 10-8.
“I felt confident coming into the game,” McCullum said. “I told the guys there’s no pressure on us. I thought we would come out ready to play, but we didn’t get any breaks early. They had a couple of infield singles and bloop hits. Against Deering you have to get those breaks. When these guys get on base they find a way to get into scoring position and their big RBI guys came through.”
With the win, Deering (17-0) advances to the semifinal round and will host the fourth-ranked Cheverus Stags (11-6) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hadlock Field. The Stags advanced with a 5-0 quarterfinal win over the Marshwood Hawks, also on Thursday.
Deering beat the Stags 8-5 on the road back on May 14, and then again, 6-0, at home in the semifinal round of the league playoffs.
On Saturday, Deering will send senior lefthander Regan Flaherty (5-0, 2.85 ERA) to the mound, where he’ll likely match-up against Mick DiStasio (6-2, 1.79 ERA), the senior ace of the Cheverus’ staff. DiStasio dropped his first two decisions of the season before reeling off six straight wins down the stretch.
On Thursday night, Deering capitalized on a tough outing by Portland senior P.J. Brogan, chasing the righthander after only 1 ? innings of work, scoring eight runs, seven of them earned, on five hits and five walks. Brian Furey, the ace of the Bulldogs’ staff, was unavailable after pitching nine gritty innings in a preliminary round win over the Biddeford Tigers just 24 hours earlier.
“Their guy was a little wild in the beginning and we were able to take advantage,” said Coutts. “We didn’t rip the cover off the ball but we put it in play enough to cause problems. Ouimet’s big hit was the key.”
In the first inning, Deering sophomore Sam Balzano led off with an infield single, stole second, and moved to third on a single by senior Mark Powers. Flaherty, selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 28th round of the 2009 Major League Baseball draft on Wednesday, followed with a walk that loaded the bases. Balzano raced home on a passed ball before Candage walked to reload the bases, and Powers scored on a fielder’s choice RBI groundout by senior Jack Heary. Ouimet followed with an RBI single to score Flaherty and move Heary to third. After Ouimet stole second, sophomore Nick Collucci singled to center to clear the bases and give the Rams a 5-0 lead after one inning of play.
Candage retired the side in order in the top of the second inning on a strikeout and two groundouts to Powers at short.
The Rams returned in the bottom of the second inning and tacked on three more runs on three hits to take an 8-0 lead. Balzano grounded out to start the inning, but Powers reached after he struck out and the ball kicked away from the Peter Olafsen, the Bulldogs’ senior catcher. Flaherty followed with a hard single by the first basemen into rightfield, and back-to-back walks to Candage and Heary ended the day for Brogan.
With the left-handed Ouimet lurking on-deck, McCullum summoned the left-handed Adam Gould to try and escape the jam. The plan backfired when Ouimet drilled Gould’s first pitch off the boards in deep rightfield to score both Flaherty from third and Candage from second. Gould settled down and whiffed the next two batters, but the Rams led 8-0 after two innings.
“They just made a pitching change and I thought if he throws me a first-pitch strike I’m going to swing as hard as I can,” Ouimet said. “I missed it a little bit but I still thought it had a chance to get out when it left the bat. We were able to get an early lead and that helped Candage relax a little bit on the hill. He threw great tonight, but ask any pitcher and they’ll tell you they would rather pitch with the lead. He was tremendous out there.”
Gould retired the side in order in the third and held the Rams scoreless in the fourth, but was touched for single runs in the fifth and sixth, the latter coming in the form of a game-winning, walk-off single by Deering senior Luke Hammond with the bases loaded and no outs.
“I just wanted to go out there and throw strikes,” said Gould. “They have a great hitting team. They got a bunch of lefthanders in that lineup. I wanted to keep the ball down and force them to groundout. We’ve come back in a lot of games this year. Most of our games didn’t end until the last inning. We had some tough losses but we had some great wins.”
“I’m really proud of how this team came together this year,” said McCullum. “They have had three coaches in four seasons. They could have folded when we were 5-7 but they didn’t. I inherited a lot of seniors and they responded very well to me. It’s important to play this game the right way, not just for me but for Portland High baseball. We really started to come together towards the end of the season.”