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Cheverus baseball earns gritty opening day win

Sports

Cheverus baseball earns gritty opening day win

PORTLAND—The Cheverus baseball team knows that defending its first state championship won't be easy.

The Stags discovered just how grueling it might be in their season opener Friday afternoon.

Hosting Bonny Eagle under a bright sun that wreaked havoc for fielders all day, Cheverus had to scratch and claw throughout and didn't break open the game until the sixth inning.

Senior ace Louie DiStasio managed to extricate himself from jam after jam en route to an 11-hit complete game and the balanced Stags' offense was too much for the Scots to contend with as Cheverus went on to an 11-3 victory.

Nine different Stags had hits, six drove in at least one run and it appears yet again that this team will be hard to stop.

"It was a good first day," said DiStasio, who was also productive at the plate and on the basepaths. "The team looked good. We just have to keep our energy up for a whole game. We let down for one inning, but we picked it back up."

New year

Virtually everything fell Cheverus' way last spring when the Stags went 18-2 and dominated Lewiston, 9-1, in the Class A state final.

Cheverus lost seven seniors to graduation, but returns plenty of firepower and is viewed once again as a top team in the region.

Bonny Eagle went 5-11 a year ago, losing its meeting with the Stags, 8-2.

While Cheverus threatened to run away with Friday's game almost from the outset, the Scots were tenacious and never let the defending champions get comfortable.

It was clear in the first inning that Bonny Eagle wasn't intimidated by DiStasio. Pitcher Matt Burnell led off by fighting off a high pitch for a single to leftfield on an 0-2 pitch. Shortstop Nathan Peasley followed by skying a ball toward right-center. Stags senior centerfielder Spencer Cooke lost it in the sun and Peasley was credited with a single. DiStasio wild pitched the runners to second and third respectively, but bore down and struck out catcher Evan Amell and leftfielder Andrew Martel before inducing Briar Morin to fly out to rightfield to end the threat.

"Our motto is one pitch at a time," said DiStasio. "If something happens in the field, you just forget about it and go on to the next pitch."

DiStasio's bat and legs then put the Stags ahead to stay.

Leading off the bottom of the first against Burnell, DiStasio beat out an infield single and stole second. Senior leftfielder Harry Ridge followed with a ringing single to right and DiStasio raced home to make it 1-0. Ridge was thrown out trying to take second on the throw and that loomed large when senior second baseman Nick Melville doubled into the left-centerfield gap. Burnell wild pitched Melville to third, but like DiStasio, he was able to escape the jam as junior designated hitter Drew Ferrick lined out to short and junior first baseman Ryan Casale flew harmlessly to center.

In the top of the second, second baseman Devin Butler led off a with a single to left on a 3-2 pitch, but DiStasio struck out centerfield Greg Hussey, got third baseman Patrick McDonough to foul out to sophomore catcher Chris Tinsman and fanned first baseman Tom Hazelton looking.

Cheverus added to its lead in the bottom of the second. Tinsman led off with a double in his first at-bat with the Stags (he spent his freshman year at Cape Elizabeth). Cooke beat out a bunt and stole second and senior third baseman Tyler Flaherty followed with a ringing triple over Hussey's head to score both runners. An RBI ground out by senior Cam Mullen gave the Stags a 4-0 advantage.

Again, the Scots threatened in the top of the third as for a third straight inning, the leadoff hitter reached (Burnell on a bunt single). DiStasio fanned Peasley and got Amell to ground into a force play, but Martel kept the inning alive with a single to right, putting runners at the corners. Once again under pressure, DiStasio was at his best and he escaped this jam by inducing Morin to fly out to Ridge.

Cheverus went in order in the bottom of the third.

In the top of the fourth, DiStasio got the leadoff hitter for the first time (a fly out to left from Butler), but Hussey singled to left and McDonough reached when his ground ball got through Flaherty. Hazleton hit a low liner to left that looked like trouble, but Ridge made a nice sliding catch for the second out. A strikeout of Burnell sent the game to its midway point still 4-0 in favor of the Stags.

Cheverus added a fifth run in the bottom of the fourth as Tinsman reached on a double that Morin lost in the sun and with two down, Mullen came through with a bloop single to right to score Tinsman.

Bonny Eagle finally got to DiStasio in the fifth.

Peasley led off with a single to center. Amell followed with a single to left and both runners moved up on the throw. Like he did in the first inning, DiStasio retired the next two hitters (Martel on a lineout to senior Brandyn Chretien, who entered that inning for defensive purposes, and Morin on a called third strike), but this time, Butler came through, singling to left, cutting the deficit to 5-2 and moving to second on the throw. Butler would score on a Tinsman error and McDonough came to the plate as the tying run, but DiStasio struck him out, allowing the Stags to cling to a 5-3 lead.

When Burnell retired Cheverus in order in the bottom of the fifth, it looked like the Scots could build on their momentum, but DiStasio worked around a one-out Burnell double, retiring three other hitters on ground balls.

The Stags then put it away, with some help from the Bonny Eagle defense, in the bottom of the sixth.

Casale got the fun started with a triple to right. Sophomore Mitchell Powers pinch-ran and came home when Tinsman's liner was dropped by Hussey. Tinsman took second on the play. Pinch-runner Brad Carney moved to third on Cooke's sacrifice and Chretien then showed his skill with the bat, dropping a perfect squeeze bunt to bring Carney home for a 7-3 lead.

"Coach gave me the bunt signal and I just tried to get the ball on the ground and it worked," Chretien said.

Cheverus wasn't done as Mullen singled to center and DiStasio lofted a fly ball to center than Hussey couldn't handle. After the throw to the infield was mishandled, DiStasio was able to race around the bases and follow Mullen across the plate for a 9-3 advantage. Ridge was hit by a pitch, Melville reached on an error by Butler and Ferrick ended all doubt with a double to left that scored Ridge and Melville, making it 11-3.

Once again in the top of the seventh, DiStasio made things interesting as Martel doubled and Morin drew a walk. The threat ended there, however, as DiStasio fanned pinch-hitter T.J. Reagan for his ninth strikeout of the game, got pinch-hitter Andrew Mowatt to fly out to Cooke and then ended the game in style, inducing pinch-hitter Travis Rogers to hit a foul pop on the third base side. The ball appeared headed out of the play, but Chretien, who's earned the nickname "Scuba," capped his short but eventful stint by reaching over the fence and plucking the ball back over the fence with his glove to end it.

"With two outs, I said, 'Scuba, how about you make one more play for me?'" DiStasio said. "He did."

"Coach put me in to play defense," Chretien said. "That's what I like to do. I like to help the team however I can. It was fun. It looked close. I just threw my glove out and got it. I was leaning over the fence. My feet were off the ground a little bit."

It wasn't pretty, but we'll take it," added Cheverus coach Mac McKew. "We played (Boston College) High (in a scrimmage) Tuesday, easily the best team we'll play all year, and we lost in the bottom of the seventh. I think we weren't totally engaged initially. I give Bonny Eagle credit. They battled. Brandyn made some super great plays at third base and executed the squeeze play to perfection. We hit the ball. I'm happy for the most part. We were aggressive."

DiStasio was far from dominant, allowing 11 hits, but just three runs (only two earned). He walked one and threw a wild pitch, but his ability to get strikeouts when needed and bear down and get clutch outs served him well.

"For the first game out, I'm happy, but I can get better with my accuracy," DiStasio said.

"Louie threw 121 pitches, that's his cap," said Mckew. "He turns it up a notch when he has to. He's a competitor. He slowed down a little bit in the second half of the game. You could tell because they squaring up a few balls."

The Cheverus offense was paced by three hits from DiStasio and two each from Mullen and Tinsman. Ferrick, Flaherty and Mullen all drove in a pair of runs. DiStasio and Tinsman each scored twice. The Stags had six extra base hits, including triples from Casale and Flaherty and a pair of doubles from Tinsman.

For Bonny Eagle, Burnell allowed 13 hits and 11 runs (six earned). He didn't surrender a walk and struck out two. He also hit a batter and threw a wild pitch. Offensively, Burnell had three hits, Martel and Peasley two. Butler had two RBI.

Long road ahead

Bonny Eagle is scheduled to return to action Tuesday at home versus Thornton Academy.

Cheverus, meanwhile, knows it will get every foe's best effort every time out. The Stags are at Windham Tuesday and will likely face Eagles' ace Code Dube. Thursday brings a trip to dangerous Marshwood and possibly a showdown against the Hawks' standout Luke Fernandes.

Cheverus has taken one step toward its goal of a repeat title, but there's a long way to go.

"We're making progress," DiStasio said. "We have to keep the energy up and act like we have a target on our back."

"It's a tough week (coming up)," McKew said. "We'll get a better sense where we're at."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.