OLD ORCHARD BEACH —Joey Royer wouldn’t mind if Cheverus played all its baseball games at the The Ballpark.
The senior pitched six innings of three-hit ball, striking out 10, and doubled to deep left field to spark the Stags’ pivotal and decisive fourth-inning rally as top-seeded Cheverus defeated No. 5 South Portland 8-2 in Monday’s Western Class A semifinal.
The Stags (16-2) advance to Wednesday’s regional championship, where they’ll meet No. 2 Westbrook. The game is scheduled for 3 p.m. at St. Joseph’s College in Standish.
South Portland wraps up its season at 11-7.
The semifinal was moved from Cheverus to Old Orchard Beach because The Ballpark has lights and Cheverus’ MacDonald Field does not. With the possibility of a rain delay, a lighted field protected against the game having to be called due to darkness.
As it was, neither rain nor darkness proved a factor. Losing the homefield advantage didn’t, either.
“I love this place,” Royer said. “It’s so big. I’m just comfortable playing here.”
Royer, who hit four doubles when the Stags played Portland at The Ballpark during the regular season, had two hits in Cheverus’ eight-run fourth inning, scoring a run and knocking in another. He also pitched extended innings for the first time in a month after dealing with tendinitis.
“He hasn’t pitched in a month, other than two innings in the (league) championship game,” said Cheverus coach Mac McKew. “He threw 96 pitches, 62 strikes. Pretty impressive. His first pitch strikes were out of sight, too.”
Cheverus had other arms at the ready if Royer was unable to go deep into the game.
“I was just going by feel,” Royer said. “Coach had a pitch count on me. When he visited me on the mound, he’d let me know my pitch count and ask me how I’m doing. I felt fine. I don’t know if it was adrenaline or what, but I felt great today. I wasn’t expecting to go that long today.”
“He was excellent,” said South Portland coach Mike Owens. “He threw strike after strike, and really got ahead in the count. It was hard for us to fight back.”
Freshman Mitchell Powers relieved Royer at the start of the seventh and struck out the side to end the game.
South Portland took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third, with junior starting pitcher Matt DiBiase limiting the Stags to one hit through the first three innings. But the Cheverus bats came alive in a large way in the fourth.
Royer doubled to lead off. After junior Tyler Flaherty grounded out, senior Jack Bushey blooped a double. Royer only made it to third as he had to wait to see if the ball dropped. Junior Harry Ridge knocked home Royer and Bushey with a single just past the dive of Red Riots junior second baseman Shawn Shannon, tying the game at 2-2.
Juniors Spencer Cooke and Louie DiStasio followed with singles to load the bases. Shannon came on in relief of DiBiase, but couldn’t close the floodgates. Senior Nic Lops hit a two-RBI single. Back-to-back walks to senior Peter Potthoff and junior Nick Melville pushed another run across and spelled the end for Shannon.
South Portland senior Zach Horton came on to face Royer, up for the second time in the inning. Royer singled to left to drive in Lops. After Flaherty struck out, Bushey singled to plate the final two runs, making it 8-2. Horton struck out Ridge to end the inning.
Royer admitted that there were some nerves in the dugout before the rally, but the Stags remained upbeat entering the bottom of the fourth.
“Nic Lops came up to me before said, ‘It’s your field. It starts here. Hit a double,’” Royer said. “And I hit a double. It started there. We batted around and it got back to me again and I put the ball in play. It was a good inning.”
“We knew they were going to make a little run, so when we got up early we wanted to make sure we kept plugging away and getting first outs, but we just ran into a buzz saw,” Owens said. “They found some holes, hit a couple of balls hard. It just piled up. It was one inning. They’re a good team. We knew we were going to have to play really well, but we just missed our spots in one inning.”
Cheverus had nine hits in the game, eight of them coming in the fourth (Flaherty singled in the second). Horton retired the final six Stags he faced. South Portland had only one baserunner over the final three innings. Senior Evan Indorf doubled in the sixth.
The Red Riots scored in the third when Shannon walked, then scored as senior Paul Reny’s liner to left escaped the dive of Bushey and rolled to the wall, scoring Shannon. Reny ended up on third and scored on a groundout by junior Will Bushey.
Sophomore Nick Whitten had an infield single for South Portland in the fourth.
South Portland, which edged No. 4 Scarborough 2-1 in eight innings in the quarterfinals, continued its proud baseball tradition in Owens’ first season at the helm.
“I absolutely think the season was a success,” Owens said. “It’s definitely not the way we wanted to end. We had higher expectations for ourselves than I think other people around the area might have. We built on something. We were better today than we were the first day we were out, and that’s something we shot for as a staff and shot for as a team. You always want to win the last one, but I’m really proud of the way the boys competed and where we got.”
Cheverus, meanwhile, will play in its first regional final since 1993 and can reach its first-ever state championship game with a win over Westbrook (16-2).
The Stags defeated Westbrook 6-2 in eight innings in the regular-season finale, then topped the Blue Blazes again in eight innings, 3-2, in the non-countable league championship game.
“Is it third time’s a charm, or you can never beat a team three times in one season?” said McKew. “We’re going with third time’s a charm. We look forward to it. You look at it and these are the two teams that should be in the finals.”
The matchup will be extra special for Royer, who hails from Westbrook and played with many of the Westbrook High seniors in the past — on the 2005 team that went to the Little League World Series and the 2008 team that finished as runners-up in the Babe Ruth World Series.
“We hang out all the time,” Royer said. “But we haven’t been hanging out lately.”
Cheverus senior Joey Royer struck out 10 in six innings, scattering three hits to collect the victory.
Cheverus junior Spencer Cooke hustles home with a run as South Portland sophomore catcher Adam Helmke waits in vain for a throw to the plate.
Cheverus junior Louie DiStasio slides safely into third base as the throw to South Portland senior third baseman Evan Indorf is too late following a wild pitch.
South Portland senior shortstop Paul Reny makes a throw across the diamond to get Cheverus junior Nick Melville at first base.
South Portland junior Matt DiBiase made the start for the Red Riots.
Cheverus senior Jack Bushey is congratulated by teammates after crossing the plate during the fourth inning of Monday’s 8-2 Cheverus victory over South Portland in the Western Class A semifinals. The Stags advanced to meet Westbrook in Wednesday’s regional final.
More photos below.