The last time all four city baseball teams qualified for the playoffs in the same year was 2006.
There’s a decent chance that it will happen again in 2011.
In Western Class A, Cheverus and Deering are in solid position in the Heal Points standings, while Portland still has a plenty of opportunity to move up. In Western C, Waynflete is building on last year’s playoff trip with a superb regular season to date.
In Western A, the Stags took an 8-1 record, a four-game win streak and the No. 2 spot in the standings (behind South Portland) into the week after home victories last week over Kennebunk (10-0, in five innings), Sanford (6-1) and Marshwood (7-1).
Against the Rams, junior Louie DiStasio spun a three-hit shutout, striking out eight hitters. He also had two hits and scored three runs. Senior Joey Royer had three hits and two runs batted in, classmate Peter Potthoff had a pair of hits and three RBIs and juniors Nick Melville and Harry Ridge also had two hits. In the win over the Redskins, Royer allowed only four hits and fanned nine. Offensively, senior Nic Lops doubled, tripled and scored twice. Potthoff and Ridge both had two hits and two runs batted in and senior Jack Bushey had three hits, scored twice and drove in one. Against the Hawks, Ridge got the win behind a three-hitter. He struck out seven. DiStasio and Lops both drove in a pair.
“It’s been a good start for us,” said Cheverus coach Mac McKew. “Certainly the strength of our team has been our pitching depth. Five different starting pitchers recorded the win in our first five victories and since then, Joey Royer, Louie DiStasio and Harry Ridge each have two wins. All three have sub-1.30 (earned run averages), which includes Harry’s ERA of 0. Ridge also has a save to his credit. Our catcher, Nic Lops, deserves a lot of credit for handling the pitching staff. He’s been rock solid behind the plate.
“Our offense has significantly improved over last year. We have six starters hitting over .400 through the first eight games: Ridge (.538), Royer (.526), DiStasio (.484), Tyler Flaherty (.476), Lops (.464) and Potthoff (.438). We’re hitting the ball with more authority. Halfway through the season, we have more extra base hits than we had all of last year.
“Our sore spot thus far in the season has been our defense. We have made 15 errors in our first eight games. To get to the playoffs first and then be successful, we must improve defensively. The soft defense that we have played really comes down to a lack of mental toughness and focus, not ability. We must get better in the field.”
The Stags were at Massabesic Tuesday, visit Portland Thursday and play at Bonny Eagle Saturday before hosting Deering in a pivotal showdown Tuesday of next week. Home games with Windham and Scarborough, and a season-ending trip to preseason favorite Westbrook ends the regular season schedule.
Deering also began the week 8-1 and has won seven straight, placing it fifth in the tightly bunched Heals. Last week, the Rams disposed of host Noble (22-5, in five innings), visiting Portland (11-0, in five innings) and visiting Windham (11-2).
Against the Knights, senior Anthony Balzano came on to pitch three innings of relief for the win. Seniors Sam Balzano and John Hardy and juniors Nick DiBiase and Jamie Gullbrand all hit home runs. Sam Balzano finished with three hits, three runs and four RBIs. Senior Jamie Ross added three hits, three runs and two RBIs. Gullbrand drove in three and senior Nick Colucci scored three times.
Deering hung a nine-spot against Portland in the first inning and cruised from there. The Rams paraded 14 batters to the plate as everyone in the order either scored or knocked in a run.
Sam Balzano led off with a double to rightfield. Senior Matt Bevilaqua reached on an error. Colucci’s groundout plated Balzano. Walks to Ross and DiBiase loaded the bases for senior John Miranda, who took advantage by knocking a two-run single to center. Gullbrand followed with a walk. Senior John Hannigan singled to right on a two-strike pitch, scoring two more runs. Hardy, the No. 9 hitter, added a two-run double to left. Balzano walked during his second at-bat of the inning, chasing the Portland starting pitcher, sophomore Caleb Fraser, after just a third of an inning. Senior Rudy DiMillo moved from second base to the mound for the Bulldogs. Bevilaqua greeted him with a sacrifice fly to center that scored Hardy. Colucci was hit by a pitch, then Ross’ double knocked in Balzano.
“That No. 9 looks so good up there,” said Deering coach Mark Sutton, nodding toward the scoreboard. “We kept the momentum going from the Noble game. Portland is always a very competitive team to play against. The fact that we got nine runs in the first inning is a great statement. I know the kids feel good about it. I feel good about it. The other thing is we have no errors up there. That’s always the most important thing for me.”
Asked about the cause of the increased run production, Sutton could only smile.
“I’d like to say it’s me, but I don’t think that’s what it is,” he said. “I think a lot of it is we’ve taken a little bit more batting practice. We’ve seen more live pitching now that we’re a third of the way through the season. And we’re starting to be more patient. We’re starting to swing at pitches we can hit, as opposed to the beginning of the year when sometimes you swing at pitches because you’re over-anxious.”
A Gullbrand double and Hardy (2-for-2, three RBIs and two steals) single produced the 10th run in the second inning.
“We just have a bunch of athletes who are great baseball players,” Hardy said. “For me, batting in the nine spot, I don’t mind at all. I started the season really slow, but I’m starting to come through now. The whole team is just hitting the heck out of the ball.”
A Bevilacqua double and Miranda single made it 11-0 in the third. DiBiase did the rest, throwing a three-hitter and striking out nine while only walking one to earn the victory.
“He’s always so efficient,” Sutton said. “He throws strikes. He’s always around the plate. If he walks somebody, it’s a surprise. It’s great to have him out there. He’s one of those lefties that puts the ball in play so that we can play behind him.”
Saturday’s win over Windham actually went the allotted seven innings, but the Rams dominated again behind three hits, including a double and a triple, and four RBIs from Colucci and three hits and two RBIs from Miranda. Sam Balzano got the win, fanning seven while surrendering four hits.
Deering was at Thornton Academy Tuesday, visits Gorham Thursday, then gets into the meat of its schedule, hosting Westbrook in a delicious showdown and playoff rematch Saturday afternoon, visiting Cheverus Monday and Scarborough next Thursday. Home games versus Marshwood and South Porltand close the regular campaign.
While the Rams hope to continue their scoring tear, Sutton sees a league that is wide open.
“It’s going to be the same old suspects,” Sutton said. “Cheverus, Biddeford, South Portland, Westbrook, Scarborough, us, Portland — don’t count those guys out, Portland can beat anybody on any day, Marshwood, Thornton. Those nine teams are going to be there until the end. You can’t take any game for granted.”
Showing how topsy-turvy Western Class A can be on a given day, Portland preceded its loss with a 3-2 home win over defending regional champion Biddeford, but against Deering, little went right for the young Bulldogs.
“We’re inconsistent,” said Portland coach Tony DiBiase. “Some games are good, some games you don’t know what is going to happen. (Deering’s) one of the best teams in the state and we got off to such a bad start. Give credit to them. They hit the ball hard. They just jumped all over us. We beat Biddeford, who was ranked No. 1, on Saturday. Then today we got beat 11-0. It’s been like that all year long, but that’s kind of expected when you have six sophomores out there.”
Saturday, the Bulldogs fell to 4-5 and ninth in the standings (only the top eight make the playoffs) after a 7-4 home loss to Thornton Academy. Sophomore Kyle Reichert singled, doubled and tripled in the setback. Classmate Tim Rovnak also had three hits.
Portland was at Sanford Tuesday, welcomes Cheverus Thursday and Noble Saturday. Next week, the Bulldogs visit Windham, Westbrook and Gorham before finishing the season at home against Scarborough May 31.
In Western C, the Flyers began the week 5-1 and seventh in the Heals. Last week, Waynflete held off visiting Old Orchard Beach (6-4) and rolled over Sacopee (8-1). In the come-from-behind win over the Seagulls, senior Alex Hadiaris had two hits and sophomore Charlie Laprade got the win with a seven-hitter. Against the Hawks, Laprade again dazzled, registering three hits, including a double, while throwing a four-hitter and fanning nine.
“We’ve definitely played well so far and we are ready for the second half of our season,” said Waynflete coach Steve Kautz. “We have focused on throwing strikes and catching the ball for a few years and that is what we have done well so far this year. Our walks allowed are way down and our fielding percentage is way up. Charlie has been our best player and one of the best players in the conference. He is 4-1 with a sub-three ERA, has 33 strikeouts in 29 innings, is hitting over .500. and his strong work ethic is leading the young players to be their best.
“In the field, we are being led by three players. Alex has been a rock at third base and it’s the first time he’s played the position. He’s making all of the routine plays and he’s made a few gems. (Sophomore) Andrew Butler is an amazing first baseman. He scoops it as well as any kid I’ve seen in Class C and he’s starting to show some power at the plate. (Junior) Mitch Newlin has made several highlight reel catches in centerfield and he has a great arm.
“(Freshman) Joey Schnier has had a great start to his varsity career. He’s played a steady shortstop. Two other seniors have provided excellent defense and timely offense. Sam Murphy had a long home run at Traip and Noah Aronson is hitting .350, playing a solid second base and filling in at third or short when needed. Finally, our catcher (senior captain) Tom Ryan has anchored this team with his leadership on the field. He calls a great game and handles our young pitching like a pro.”
The Flyers host Traip Friday and have a home doubleheader versus North Yarmouth Academy Saturday before visiting Old Orchard Beach Wednesday of next week. A visit to NYA on May 28 brings the curtain down on the regular season.
“We’ve got a tough road ahead,” said Kautz. “Three games against NYA still await us, along with one each with the other teams in the conference. These are all tough teams with big offenses and established records of success. We have to continue to play our game, throw strikes, catch the ones we should catch and execute our offensive strategies. If we do those things, we know we can compete.”
Freelance writer Tom Minervino contributed to this story
Deering senior Nick Colucci gets the tag down in time to throw out Portland sophomore Tim Rovnak as he attempts to steal second base during Thursday’s game at Hadlock Field. The Rams rolled, 11-0, in five innings.
Portland senior Matt McInnis delivers a pitch against Deering. He worked a scoreless inning of relief for the Bulldogs.