Scarborough erupts late to down SP
SCARBOROUGH—For three innings Friday, nothing went right for the defending Class A state champion Scarborough softball team.
Senior ace Alyssa Williamson was struggling, the Red Storm's potent offense wasn't coming up with a big hit and even the team's usually flawless defense was shaky.
Add it all up and Scarborough trailed rival South Portland, 4-0, at the Kippy Mitchell Sports Complex.
Then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, the Red Storm rediscovered its championship form and put on a frightening display.
Senior catcher Megan Murrell sparked the comeback with a prodigious home run and Scarborough never looked back, scoring 13 unanswered runs to win with stunning ease, 13-4.
The Red Storm mustered 14 hits (junior second baseman Ashley Gleason led the way with three, including a clutch game-tying single in the fifth inning), seven players drove in at least one run (sophomore shortstop Chloe Gorey led the way with three) and junior Sophia Burnham produced a clutch relief pitching performance with the game still hanging in the balance as the Red Storm improved to 2-0, handing the Red Riots a loss in their first countable game.
"I'm just so proud of these kids," said Scarborough coach Tom Griffin. "This was a character builder for us. They kept the energy going and kept their confidence."
Must see showdown
Since Scarborough joined the Southwestern Maine Activities Association for the 2004 season, it's played in the regional or state final every year but one and in most of those postseasons, ran into South Portland somewhere along the way.
The teams actually met for the first time in the 2003 Western A semifinals, when the Red Storm (which played a Class B regular season schedule that year, but got bumped up for the playoffs) beat the Red Riots, 3-0.
In all, Scarborough entered Monday having taken 15 of 19 previous meetings (please see sidebar), including a decisive 15-5 win at South Portland last April.
The Red Storm had won nine of 10 prior regular season meetings and six of nine in the postseason.
Scarborough opened defense of its 2013 championship Wednesday with an impressive 8-0 home win over Bonny Eagle, while South Portland entered Friday not having yet played a countable game.
This meeting, like so many others, went the Red Storm's way, but not the way anyone imagined on a pleasant but brisk day (54 degrees with the wind coming out of the northwest at 9 miles per hour at first pitch).
In the top of the first, the Red Riots made it clear they had come to play, as junior shortstop Laurine German led off with a single and when Burnham didn't field the ball cleanly, German took second. After falling behind in the count 1-2, sophomore first baseman Miranda Gleason drew a walk and senior pitcher Olivia Indorf followed with a single to centerfield to score German with the game's first run.
Williamson managed to avoid further damage, as she got leftfielder Sarah Micucci to pop back to the mound and fanned both freshman designated player Kaitlin Bouchard and senior third baseman Michaela Willwerth looking.
In the bottom half, South Portland junior second baseman Abby Young made a tremendous defensive play, when she ranged all the way to the rightfield line to catch a pop fly off Gorey's bat. Junior rightfielder Brittany Plowman then popped to first, but Williamson drew a walk on a full-count pitch and after freshman courtesy runner Hannah Ricker was wild pitched to second, Murrell walked and senior first baseman Brenna Kent reached on an error to load the bases. Indorf escaped, however, as she got Burnham to pop out to Willwerth in foul territory.
The Red Riots made it 2-0 in the second.
After battling back from an 0-2 count, junior catcher Kiley Kennedy drew a leadoff walk and was replaced by freshman courtesy runner Stephanie Aceto. Aceto moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Young and number nine hitter, centerfielder Paige Carter, ripped the first pitch she saw over Red Storm freshman centerfielder Lilly Volk's head for a double and an RBI. German drew a walk, but Miranda Gleason flew out to left and with Indorf at the plate, Carter tried to move up on a pitch in the dirt, but Murrell threw her out to limit the damage.
In the bottom half, Indorf again set down the first two hitters, striking out freshman designated player Abbie Murrell and getting Ashley Gleason to ground out, but Indorf hit sophomore third baseman Maggie Murphy with a pitch and Murphy took second on a passed ball before Gorey grounded out to second to end the frame.
South Portland continued to stymie Williamson in the third.
Indorf led off with a single to left. Micucci hit the ball back to the mound, but Williamson's throw to second sailed and pulled Ashley Gleason off the bag for an error. Bouchard then ripped an apparent base hit to right, but for the second game in a row, Plowman raced in, fielded the ball and threw to first for the rare (and becoming less rare by the game) 9-3 putout.
Willwerth then beat out an infield hit, scoring Indorf and after Kennedy popped out to second, Williamson threw a wild pitch and Micucci scored for a stunning 4-0 lead.
Most teams would have been in serious trouble at that juncture and many would have panicked, but as it turned out, Scarborough was about to respond.
With a vengeance.
Indorf started the bottom of the third by getting Plowman to ground to short and Williamson to hit a deep fly to left that hung up just enough for Micucci to catch. Megan Murrell was next and she too made solid contact, but unlike Williamson, Murrell got all of it and the ball sailed over the wall in right-center to put the Red Storm on the board.
"I think there was a little bit of worry, but we're a pretty positive team," said Murrell, who will play at Saint Anselm (N.H.) College next year. "Everyone kept their energy up. We knew we'd come back. I went into that at-bat wanting to make a difference and set the tone. I thought I'd be walked, but I got it."
More importantly, the home run had awakened a sleeping giant.
"That home run helped us," Griffin said. "It gave us energy. It was just a matter of time. We're a very good offensive team."
Sure enough, Kent singled up the middle and Burnham ripped a single to right-center to put runners at the corners, but Indorf got Abbie Murrell to ground to short and after German momentarily bobbled the ball, she recovered and threw Murrell out to keep the score 4-1.
In the top of the fourth, Williamson returned to form, getting Carter to ground out to second, German to fly to left and Miranda Gleason to hit a ground ball to Gorey at short for the game's first 1-2-3 inning.
The Red Storm's offensive resurgence continued in the bottom half.
Ashley Gleason led off by lining a ball back to the mound and it hit Indorf in the knee and rolled away for a single. Indorf stayed down for several minutes, Aceto began to warm up and it looked like a worst case scenario for the Red Riots, but Indorf was able to shake off the pain and stayed in the game.
Gleason immediately stole second and Murphy reached on an error with Gleason taking third. Gorey then laid down a bunt. She was thrown out, but Gleason scored to make it 4-2.
Murphy promptly stole third and came home when Plowman lined out to left. After Williamson walked and was replaced by Ricker, Megan Murrell flied out to left and South Portland clung to a 4-3 lead.
Again, in the top of the fifth, Williamson made sure the Red Riots wouldn't add to their lead and that her offense would get another chance as she fanned Indorf looking, got Micucci to ground out to third and got Bouchard to ground out to short, with Gorey making a nice play to end the frame.
Then, in the bottom of the fifth, Scarborough then set about taking the lead, with some help from the visitors.
Kent got the rally started with a walk. Burnham sacrificed courtesy runner Ricker to second, but when Abbie Murrell grounded out to shortstop, it looked like the Red Storm would squander the opportunity.
Enter Ashley Gleason.
The feisty second baseman came up big-time in the clutch, lining a single to right and Ricker came home with the tying run.
"I was just trying to make contact," Gleason said. "I try to hit the ball no matter what the situation. (A slow start) happened the other day too, we gradually get better and better and find holes and that momentum carries us through the game. Everybody makes contact with the ball. We weren't that concerned, because it takes us awhile to get going. We had to just keep doing what we do."
Indorf appeared as if she'd escape further damage when got Murphy to fly to center, but after a long run, Carter couldn't squeeze the ball and Gleason, who had stolen second base, easily scored on the error to put Scarborough ahead for good.
"I knew fielding was going to be our Achilles' heel," said South Portland coach Ralph Aceto. "We need to maybe make some changes. Or not. It's going to be frustrating. I'm going to have fewer fingernails and maybe a lot more gray hairs by the end of the season, but it's a good group of kids. They work hard and pick each other up."
The damage wasn't quite done yet, as Gorey ripped an RBI single to left and Murphy, who had taken second on the error, came in for a 6-4 lead.
Just when it appeared Williamson was going to slam the door, the Red Riots mustered one more rally in the top of the sixth.
Willwerth led off by drawing a walk. After Kennedy hit into a force play, Williamson wild pitched Willwerth to second, then walked Young.
That ended her day.
Griffin brought Burnham into the game and Burnham got Carter to hit a fly ball down the rightfield line. Kent, who had just switched positions, made a nice diving catch, but both runners moved up, meaning South Portland had the tying runs on with arguably its best hitter, German, coming to the dish.
Many expected Scarborough to walk German intentionally, but instead, Burnham, who pitched only a handful of innings last spring, went at her and to the surprise of just about everyone, got German to look at strike three.
"(Sophia's) progressed so much since last year," Megan Murrell said. "She came in and she just brought it. Everyone was expecting the intentional walk, but Sophia wanted to challenge her and she did. The momentum was going our way before that, but in that moment, we knew we had it.
"(Sophia) has so much confidence and we have so much confidence in her," Ashley Gleason said. "She's such a good pitcher and gets the job done."
"I told (Sophia) to pitch around (Laurine), but I saw she was looking at us and we decided not to pitch around her," Griffin added. "She thought we were pitching around her. That played to our advantage. She let that strike go by and that was huge. Sophia came in and shut the door. She pitched some innings last year, not a lot. She's used to pressure. She's a calm and confident young lady."
Aceto knew his team was pretty much cooked at that point.
"That was the air out of the sail," he said. "As far as I was concerned, that was our last gasp."
Scarborough then ended all doubt in the bottom of the sixth.
Williamson led off with a double off the centerfield fence. Megan Murrell followed by blooping a shot to center which Carter couldn't quite corral. Murrell reached second with a double and junior Dani Plummer, who had replaced Williamson, took third after having to hold to see if the ball would drop. Kent followed with a sharp single off Indorf, into center, scoring both runners and just like that, the lead was 8-4.
The fun was just beginning.
After Burnham flew out to right and Volk popped out to short, Ashley Gleason kept the rally going with a single and on the throw to third (Kent was safe), Gleason took second. Next up was Murphy, who ripped a triple to right-center, scoring Kent and Gleason for a 10-4 lead.
Gorey then singled to left, scoring Murphy. Plowman doubled down the line, scoring Gorey and Plowman took third on the throw. Plummer followed with a bloop hit to right-center and Plowman scored. Megan Murrell looked at strike three, but the Red Storm had scored seven times in the inning to make the score 13-4.
To South Portland's credit, it didn't go quietly in the seventh.
Leading off, Miranda Gleason singled to center. After Indorf hit into a force out, Micucci drew a walk. Burnham then struck out Stephanie Aceto and after throwing a wild pitch, she ended it by getting Willwerth to ground back to the mound, ending the 2 hour, 19 minute marathon.
"We got it going," Megan Murrell said. "Our team does a really good job of being loud and being in the moment. Everyone knows what's happening."
Scarborough mustered 14 hits, as Ashley Gleason had three and Gorey, Kent and Megan Murrell two apiece (both of Murrell's were of the extra base variety).
Gleason and Murphy touched home three times, Murrell scored twice and Gorey, Kent, Plowman, Plummer and Ricker each had one run.
Gorey drove in three runs, Kent, Murphy and Plowman two apiece and Gleason, Murrell and Plowman one each.
Scarborough also stole four bases, as Gleason had a pair and Gorey and Murphy one each.
"We got production from everyone and the bench too," Griffin said. "We're so athletic at every position. We have kids who dive for balls. We've got a lot of speed and we can put the ball in play. We can move runners if we need to. We have big bats and kids who can make solid contact. Once you put the ball in play, good things happen."
It wasn't her best day, but Williamson earned the win and improved to 2-0 after allowing four runs (two earned) on five hits and five walks in 5.1 innings. She struck out four, but threw an uncharacteristic two wild pitches.
"I think it was just an off-day," Megan Murrell said. "(Alyssa) held her own though and pushed through."
"It wasn't Alyssa's best day, but she battled and kept us in it," Griffin said.
Burnham earned the save by virtue of her 1.2 innings of scoreless relief. She allowed a hit and a walk and threw a wild pitch, but had two strikeouts.
Something to build on
South Portland was far more competitive than the final score indicated and demonstrated that even though it has a lot of new faces, it remains the team most likely to threaten Scarborough come June.
Indorf was a repeat hitter, Aceto, German, Indorf and Micucci scored runs and Carter, Indorf and Willwerth all had RBI.
Indorf (0-1) was the losing pitcher, even though she went six innings. She allowed 13 runs (11 earned) on 14 hits and four walks. Indorf fanned two, threw a wild pitch and hit a batter.
"The score wasn't indicative of how we played," said Aceto. "No shame at all in how we played today. I knew if we played defense, we could put runs across. They're Scarborough. We know they can swing the bats. We couldn't make any mistakes.
"We've got kids who can swing the bats too. I was very surprised we put four up on (Williamson), but not that we scored on her. These kids know who she is. They've seen her.."
See you in June
The rivals will close the regular season against each other on June 4, but both have plenty of business to tend to in the meantime.
South Portland hopes to get in the win column Monday when it opens the home portion of its schedule versus always dangerous Thornton Academy.
"It doesn't get any easier," Aceto said. "If we start 1-2 or 2-1, I'll be ecstatic. We need to get a win, if only to get the underclassmen some confidence. I only have four returning varsity starters and two seniors. I'm asking a lot of kids who are stepping into a high-pressure situation, but I think we'll be OK."
Scarborough has its first road game Monday, when it goes to Gorham. Tests against Noble and Thornton Academy follow.
The Red Storm knows improvement is necessary, but this year's goal is simple.
"We need to focus on the little things that make the game complete," said Megan Murrell. "Our motivation this year is to go back-to-back (something Scarborough has never done) and break that jinx."
"If we keep this up all season, I think we'll be successful," Ashley Gleason said.
"It doesn't get easier, but that's good for us," Griffin added. "(Games like these are) good character builders."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Scarborough-South Portland history
@ Scarborough 1 South Portland 0
Western A semifinals
@ Scarborough 1 South Portland 0
Scarborough 1 @ South Portland 0
Western A Final
Scarborough 7 South Portland 1
@ Scarborough 4 South Portland 3
Scarborough 9 @ South Portland 0
Western A Final
South Portland 1 Scarborough 0
@ Scarborough 2 South Portland 1
Western A quarterfinals
@ Scarborough 3 South Portland 0
Western A semifinals
@ Scarborough 3 South Portland 0