Red Riots' run ends with state game loss
After winning 16 straight games, including a Western Class A Final upset over unbeaten, defending state champion Scarborough (despite what last week's inaccurate Forecaster headline may have suggested otherwise), the South Portland softball team fell two runs shy of a storybook ending.
Saturday afternoon in Standish, the Red Riots simply couldn't muster any offense and lost to undefeated Cony in the Class A Final, 2-0.
South Portland's quest for a second championship in three seasons was short-circuited by Rams' junior ace Sonja Morse, who faced the minimum and allowed just one hit, which came with one out to go.
"We just ran into a hot pitcher," Red Riots coach Ralph Aceto said. "She was very good.
South Portland didn't lose a game last season until being upset by Scarborough in the regional final.
This season, consensus held that the graduation-decimated Red Riots would struggle and sure enough, after a win in the opener, South Portland was defeated by Scarborough and Thornton Academy. Then, the Red Riots didn't lose again and earned the No. 3 seed in Western A.
South Portland blanked No. 6 Sanford, 6-0, in the quarterfinals, had a surprisingly easy time with the second-ranked Golden Trojans in the semis, 8-1, then scored five times in the sixth inning to beat the top-ranked Red Storm, 5-1, in last week's Western A Final.
The run ended Saturday, however, against a Cony squad which won a title for the first time since 1983.
Morse was being matched pitch for pitch by Red Riots' junior Erin Bogdanovich into the fourth, but Bogdanovich walked Morse to start that frame on a 3-2 pitch.
"That was my fault," said Red Riots coach Ralph Aceto. "I called a change-up because I thought the count was 2-2. She threw it in the dirt."
Two walks later, the Rams had the bases loaded with two down and Cecilia Fuller managed to loft a hit over the infield to score two runs.
South Portland never seriously threatened. Both base runners were picked off, including Danica Gleason, who singled with two down in the seventh for her team's lone hit.
Bogdanovich only allowed three hits and fanned 13, but didn't get any offensive support as the Red Riots finished 17-3, while Cony wound up a perfect 20-0.
"We talked about staying off (Morse's) rise-ball, but the kids see that pitch at the the letters and they think they can hit it," Aceto said. "We struggled against Scarborough and TA the first time too, then beat them. It's too bad we couldn't face her again. When she struck out two in the first inning, I thought it would be one of those games. I kidded with (Cony coach) Rocky (Gaslin) about turning the lights on. I'd put (Morse) right there with (Scarborough ace Mo) Hannan, (Thornton Academy senior and Gatorade Player of the Year Julia) Geaumont and Erin. She's coming back next year too."
Even in defeat, it wasn't hard for South Portland to find much to hail.
"It was a very enjoyable season," Aceto said. "It was more work, but we had more fun doing it. It was a matter of putting the puzzle pieces together for the end of the season. The loss is disappointing, but not really. Anytime you can beat your rival in the Western Maine Final, it takes a little sting out of it. I told the girls, 'Nobody thought you'd get here. Keep your heads up.'"
The Red Riots lost just three seniors, Lindsay Cannon, Libby Grant and Katie Jordan. Perhaps they'll return to the state final and finish the job in 2013.
"I full expect to be back in the Western Maine Final next year," said Aceto. "Our freshmen and sophomores gained valuable experience this year. Hopefully, it pays off."