Rams keep on rolling
Flaherty pitches and hits Deering to a big win over Westbrook
By Eric Carson
PORTLAND— Deering senior left-hander Regan Flaherty held the Westbrook Blue Blazes to just two runs on five hits in a complete game effort, and helped his own cause with a two-run home run in his first at-bat, as the Rams broke open a close game late and rolled to a 7-2 win Monday afternoon at Hadlock Field in a highly-anticipated showdown between two of the state's top baseball teams who met in the regional final a year ago.
Flaherty (2-0), heading to Division I Vanderbilt University on a baseball scholarship in the fall, spotted the Blue Blazes a run in the top of the first inning, but quickly erased the deficit in the bottom half of the frame with a deep blast to right field for his first home run of the season.
Flaherty's bomb scored sophomore Sam Balzano and gave Deering an early 2-1 lead, but Westbrook clawed back and tied the game at 2-2 in the top of the third inning on a walk and two hits.
The score would remain 2-2 until the bottom of the fifth, when Deering erupted for three runs to take a 5-2 lead on the strength of Balzano's two-RBI triple.
The Rams tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and improved to 5-0 on the young season with a commanding win over Westbrook (4-1), one of the few teams considered capable of standing in the way of Deering's hopes for a third-straight Class A state championship.
"That's a good baseball team we just beat," said Flaherty (seven strikeouts). "They played us tough. This is a big win. It puts us in the driver's seat. We're probably going to see that team again in the playoffs.
"The home run felt good. I've been swinging the bat well in practice and I've been waiting for that to come. It's one of those things, you can't rush it. When I'm hitting good I usually go out and pitch good. I settled down and started hitting the outside corner and just stayed there. I love to play in these rivalry games. You need your best stuff out there in a game like this."
The Blue Blazes, now skippered by long-time Portland coach Mike Rutherford, feature eight of the 12 players that led the Westbrook Little League team to the 2005 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Now all sophomores, except for junior Nick Finnochiaro, players like Zach Collett, Sean Murphy and Zach and Jake Gardiner may be young, but they know a thing or two about playing in big baseball games.
But then again, so does this senior-laden Deering team, which has outscored the opposition 55-9 in its first five games, including a 22-4 rout of Scarborough on Saturday morning that was called after five innings. Deering scored 13 runs in the first inning and pounded out 15 hits in only 34 at-bats against the Red Storm.
On Monday, Westbrook senior ace Christian Hamilton (1-1) took the loss despite a gritty effort on the hill against the league's most potent offense. The hard throwing right-hander struck out four, surrendered seven runs on eight hits, a pair of walks and three hit batsmen over six innings of work.
After Flaherty's two-run shot in the bottom of the first inning, Hamilton held the Rams hitless until Deering junior third basemen Jake Nichols lined a sharp single into right field with one out in the Rams' three-run fifth inning.
With the score tied 2-2 and sophomore Nick Colucci on first base after reaching on an error, Nichols' single put runners on the corners with the red-hot Balzano waiting on-deck. After knocking in a pair and scoring four times from his leadoff spot against Scarborough, Balzano pulled his barrel in to drive a fastball on the inner half of the plate into the gap in right field for a triple that scored both Colucci and Nichols.
Deering senior Matt Powers followed with a walk, and Flaherty drove in Balzano for the second time on the day for a 5-2 Deering lead after five complete.
Flaherty homered after a Balzano single in the first, but his third RBI of the game was not quite as impressive. This time, the sweet-swinging lefty battled Hamilton deep into the count, and then lifted what appeared to be a routine fly ball to the shortstop. But on a windy day at Hadlock, Flaherty's high pop-up proved to be anything but routine for the Westbrook shortstop, as he circled one way and then another before falling alongside the baseball on the edge of the outfield grass as Balzano raced home.
Flaherty retired the side in order in the top of the sixth inning on three groundballs to the infield, and the Rams tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the bottom half of the frame for a 7-2 lead.
First, senior Marc Ouimet nearly matched Flaherty's blast with a ringing triple high off the wall in rightfield, perhaps less than three feet to the right of being a home run. Colucci followed with an RBI single to right, and then moved to third on Balzano's single to right field, his third hit of the game. With runners now on the corners, Powers grounded behind the bag at second and the Blue Blazes forced Balzano at second base, but Colucci snuck in the back door for the final run of the game.
"That was a good high school baseball game," said Deering coach Mike Coutts. "I'm happy for the guys. (Hamilton) was tough. We had to patient, but we started to wear him down in the fifth and sixth innings. We have been waiting to see how our kids would respond in a close game. I was happy to see they responded the right way."
Deering hosted the Kennebunk Rams Tuesday (too late for print). Thursday, the Rams travel to play Cheverus. Saturday, Deering is home with Gorham.