Playoffs underway on the diamond
The weather has been frightful and field conditions are anything but ideal, but the baseball and softball playoffs are underway in Forecaster Country.
Scarborough is the defending Class A softball champion and after a dominant 16-0 regular season, looks to win the state title for the fourth time in six years. The top-ranked Red Storm hosted No. 8 Biddeford (8-8) in Thursday's quarterfinal round. Scarborough blanked the visiting Tigers in the opener (13-0 in five innings) way back on April 19. The Red Storm last faced Biddeford in the playoffs in the 2008 regional final (a 2-1 loss).
"We are very excited about getting our playoffs started," said Scarborough coach Tom Griffin. "It will be two weeks since we last played a game, so you can imagine our girls are ready to play. We know that on any day, anything can happen, but we feel we have prepared well to compete. Our regular season has been outstanding. We have had solid contributions from every player on the roster. (Senior) Mo Hannan is back healthy and the team chemistry has been terrific."
If the Red Storm passed the Biddeford test, it would host either fourth-ranked Noble (12-4) or No. 5 Kennebunk (11-5) in the semifinals Saturday. Scarborough beat the visiting Knights, 14-2, in six innings and won at the Rams, 12-2, in the regular season. Last year, the Red Storm beat Noble, 9-0, in five innings, in the quarterfinals. Scarborough has never played Kennebunk in the playoffs.
South Portland started the year 1-2, but won its final 13 to finish 14-2 and earn the No. 3 seed behind the Red Storm and Thornton Academy, the two teams which beat the Red Riots in the regular season.
"I'm happy with the regular season," said South Portland coach Ralph Aceto. "We were a work in progress. As the kids improved, we improved and they did that steadily. It's such a loose bunch. They just play. They have a great time in the dugout."
South Portland hosted No. 6 Sanford (9-7) in the quarterfinals. The Red Riots blanked visiting Sanford, 11-0, April 30 and beat Sanford, 11-0, in last year's quarterfinals.
"We saw them early," Aceto said. "Their pitcher has come a long way. It's lose and go home now. I need to make sure the girls understand that. I'm excited to be in the playoffs. Even more excited to end up third. If anybody had told me before the season we'd be 14-2, I'd take it. I thought we could get to 10 or 12 (wins), but we played hard all year. This is icing on the cake. I think we're ready to go. My kids don't fear anybody. I like our chances as much as anyone else."
A quarterfinal win would likely send South Portland to No. 2 Thornton Academy (14-2) Saturday for the semis. The Red Riots lost to the visiting Golden Trojans, 2-0, back on April. The teams' last playoff meeting was in the 2009 semifinals (a 9-0 South Portland triumph).
In Western B, Cape Elizabeth closed the regular season with seven straight wins and wound up 13-3 and seventh. The Capers hosted No. 10 Oak Hill in the preliminary round Tuesday. The teams didn't play in the regular season. Last year, Cape Elizabeth lost to Oak Hill, 8-4, in the quarterfinals.
Tuesday, the Capers got revenge as Anna Goldstein threw a two-hitter, Ashley Tinsman had two hits (including a home run) and drove in four runs, Emma O'Rourke also went deep and Shannon Nicholson added two hits as Cape Elizabeth pulled away for a 7-1 victory.
The Capers advanced to play at second-ranked Greely (14-2) in Thursday's quarterfinals. Cape Elizabeth dropped the regular season meeting, 8-5, April 30 at Cumberland. The teams had met twice prior in the playoffs, with the Capers taking both the 2006 and 2007 Western B Finals.
The softball playoffs resume Saturday with the semifinals, on the field of the higher remaining seeds. The Western A Final is Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., at St. Joseph's College in Standish. The Western B Final is Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at the same location. The state finals are Saturday, June 16.
Cape Elizabeth and South Portland's baseball teams had prelims Tuesday.
The Capers finished their regular season at 8-8 after a 3-0 (eight inning) victory at Poland last Wednesday. Cape Elizabeth, seeded ninth in Western B, went to No. 8 Freeport Tuesday for a Western B first round contest. The teams split in the regular season, each winning on the road. In the first ever playoff contest between the programs, the Capers dodged a first inning bullet as senior pitcher Will LeBlond got out of a bases loaded jam. LeBlond went on to throw a four-hit shutout and Cape Elizabeth rapped out 11 hits, Max Gore and Chris Robicheaw had three each as the Capers advanced, 4-0.
"It wasn't so much struggling (in the first inning), we just had some tough plays," said LeBlond. "I really found a groove. I was definitely nervous in the first inning, it's playoffs, but I really started having fun and it was easy after that. Seth called a good game. We had 0-2 a lot so we could get in the hitter's heads a little bit. I felt like I had good stuff."
"We swung the bat really well," said Gore. "We saw the ball out of (the pitcher's) hands really well. There was a tough play in leftfield and that sort of broke it open for us. From there, it was timely hitting, two-out hits."
"We hoped to win enough games to make the playoffs and see what happened," added Capers coach Chris Hayward. "I thought going in we'd have really good pitching and defense. If we'd score some runs, we'd be all right. We're working hard to make things a little bit better in our favor and it's going all right so far."
Cape Elizabeth advanced to take on top-ranked Greely (15-1) in Thursday's quarterfinals. The Capers lost 8-0 at the Rangers in the lone regular season encounter, April 30. The teams have met nine prior times in the playoffs with Greely holding a 5-4 lead. Cape Elizabeth won the most recent contest, 4-3 in eight innings in the 2010 semifinals.
"We love being the underdogs," LeBlond said. "It's a lot of fun. We had the same kind of team four years ago that had to play a prelim then went on to play for a state title. We have a confident bunch in here. We're playing well right now. We feel good about ourselves."
"It's always to our benefit when we get to play, so I'd rather be playing Greely than not," Hayward added. "I bet they don't care. They're probably licking their lips. They have three guys who can throw 85 or more. We'll gear up in practice and see what we can do. We'll shorten swings and try to put the bat on the ball and scratch a couple runs. We're playing with house money. Let it ride."
In Western A, South Portland's season-ending 2-1 eight-inning win at Westbrook gave it a 6-10 mark and the 11th and final playoff spot. The Red Riots traveled to No. 6 Biddeford (8-8). South Portland opened the season with a 10-4 loss at the Tigers way back on April 20. The schools' last playoff meeting came in the 2007 preliminary round, a 5-1 Red Riots' triumph.
This time around, South Portland didn't have an answer for Biddeford, losing, 9-2, to finish 6-11. Shawn Shannon did have three hits in defeat.
Scarborough wound up second in Western A with a 14-2 record after downing visiting Portland, 5-1, in the finale last Wednesday.
"We're happy to be where we are in terms of Heal Points," said Red Storm coach Mike Coutts. "We set a goal to be in top three and accomplished that. The kids had great attitudes and work ethics all year. We can still be better and look to reach that level of consistency as we approach the playoffs."
The Red Storm hosted No. 7 Thornton Academy (10-6) in Thursday's quarterfinals. In the regular season, Scarborough opened with a 9-3 victory at Thornton Academy April 20. The teams had no playoff history.
"I firmly believe that anyone can beat anyone on any given day and our ability to handle adversity and compete on every pitch will be a key," said Coutts. "I think that we have as good a chance as anyone to represent Western Maine in the state final."
If the Red Storm passed its quarterfinal test, it will likely host third-ranked Windham (12-4) in Saturday's semifinals. On May 24, Scarborough lost, 4-0, at the Eagles. The teams last met in the playoffs in the 2005 preliminary round (a 5-2 Windham victory).
The baseball playoffs resume Saturday with the semifinals, on the field of the higher remaining seeds. The Western A Final is Tuesday at 7 p.m., at St. Joseph's College in Standish. The Western B Final is Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the same location. The state finals are Saturday, June 16.