Scarborough rallies for quarterfinal win
SCARBOROUGH—The quarterfinal round of the playoffs is usually nothing more than a speed bump for the Scarborough softball team on its way to bigger and better things, but Thursday evening at the Kippy Mitchell Sports Complex, the Red Storm found itself six outs shy of stunning elimination.
Hosting unheralded No. 9 seed Marshwood in a Western A tilt, the ninth-ranked Hawks made a second inning run stand up into the sixth inning, but there, No. 1 Scarborough came to life.
Just in time.
Senior second baseman Marisa O'Toole gave her team a spark with a leadoff bunt single, junior pitcher Alyssa Williamson knotted the score with a sacrifice fly and junior outfielder Brenna Kent had the biggest blow, a two-run double, as the Red Storm erupted for five runs.
Williamson slammed the door in the seventh in the Scarborough survived, 5-1, improving to 16-1, ending the Hawks' season at 9-8-1 and advancing to host familiar playoff foe Thornton Academy (13-4), the No. 4 seed, in the semifinals Saturday, at a time to be announced.
"We just needed a leadoff runner to get on and we finally got it," said longtime Red Storm coach Tom Griffin. "We can put the ball in play in different ways. We felt confident with the top of the order coming up for a third time. We had a lot of experience coming to the plate."
Scarborough appeared bound for another state title last spring before being upset by South Portland in the regional final, 5-1. This year, the Red Storm is bound and determined to win it all and for almost the entire season, proved unbeatable.
Scarborough opened by downing host South Portland (15-5), visiting Gorham (17-1, in five innings), host Bonny Eagle (7-1), visiting Portland (5-0), visiting Thornton Academy (8-6, in a come-from-behind victory) and host Noble (8-1). The Red Storm was then upset by visiting Sanford (3-2, in eight innings), but didn't fall again, closing with wins at Massabesic (5-2), at home over Deering (15-3, in five innings), at McAuley (16-0, in five innings), at home over Kennebunk (9-2), at Marshwood (11-2), at home over Cheverus (12-0, in six innings), at Windham (15-0, in five innings), at Biddeford (9-5) and at home over Westbrook (9-1) to go 15-1 and earn the top seed in Western A for the seventh time in eight seasons.
Marshwood started 5-2, but wound up 8-7-1 and ninth in the region. Tuesday, in the preliminary round, the Hawks won at No. 8 Westbrook, 3-2.
The teams last met in the postseason in the 2002 preliminary round (a 2-0 Scarborough win).
Thursday, Marshwood gave the Red Storm fits, but with its back to the wall and its season in jeopardy, Scarborough responded like the champion it hopes to become.
Williamson was sharp in the first, setting down Hawks catcher Gianna Riccardi on a ground ball to second, second baseman Emily Robida on a grounder back to the mound and third baseman Sam Crosman on a deep fly ball to centerfield.
The Red Storm often effectively end games in its first at-bat, but Marshwood pitcher Nicole Harvey held Scarborough at bay in the bottom of the first.
O'Toole led off by grounding to short, where Kaylah Abudl made a nice play to throw her out. After senior shortstop Grace Farnkoff singled up the middle, Williamson flew out to medium-deep center and senior third baseman Erin Giles fanned (strike three got away from Riccardi, but she got to it in time to throw to first for the out).
The Hawks then surprised most of those on hand with a run in the top of the second.
Harvey got things started with a single off Williamson. She was replaced by courtesy runner Hailey Gagne, who stole second as Williamson was striking out designated player Micki Bosse. Kim Hussey, the centerfielder, then lined a single to center, but Gagne had to hold at third. Williamson got to the brink of escaping the jam by fanning Abdul, but rigthfielder Hanna Philbrick blooped a dinky hit just over Williamson's head and while Farnkoff got to the ball and made a strong throw to first, it was too late and Gagne crossed the plate for a 1-0 advantage. Williamson caught leftfielder Joelle Casey looking at strike three to end the frame.
Harvey then held Scarborough at bay the next four innings, ratcheting up the drama.
In the bottom of the second, after junior catcher Megan Murrell popped back to the mound, Kent lined a single to center, but sophomore Sophia Burnham flew out to center and freshman Chloe Gorey grounded to short.
Williamson returned to form in the top of the third, striking out Riccardi, getting Robida to ground back to the box and inducing a fly ball to center off the bat of Crosman.
Freshman Maggie Murphy led off the bottom half by popping a bunt to Crosman at third. O'Toole then grounded out to short, but Farnkoff beat out an infield single before Williamson just got under one and flew out deep to center.
Harvey threatened to start another rally in the fourth, when she led off with a single to right. Gagne came on to run, but this time, Williamson prevented her from scoring, getting Bosse to ground out to third, Hussey to fly to left and Abdul to ground out to the mound.
The Red Storm could do nothing in its half, as Giles flew out to left, Murrell grounded out to first and Kent hit a grounder back to the mound and Harvey threw her out.
After Philbrick bounced out to third to start the fifth, Casey drew a walk, but Williamson struck out Riccardi and got Robida to fly to deep right to keep it a 1-0 game.
Scarborough did nothing in its half, as Burnham struck out looking, Gorey grounded out to third and Murphy fanned swinging.
Williamson did her part in the top of the sixth, sandwiching groundouts by Crosman (to third) and Bosse (to the mound) around a swinging strikeout of Harvey.
With the top of its order due, the Red Storm's energy picked up prior to the bottom half of the frame.
Sure enough, Scarborough erupted and turned a potential gutwrenching defeat into a spirited comeback.
O'Toole got it started, laying down a perfect bunt down the third base line and easily beating the throw.
"Marisa's bunt was so big," Williamson said. "She went out and showed us we could do it. That's what we needed."
"We talked about a bunt," Griffin said. "We told her to see where they were playing her and take advantage of it. She's done that a couple times this year."
Harvey wild pitched O'Toole to second and when Farnkoff bunted to third, Crosman tried to throw out O'Toole as she moved up to third, but the throw had no chance and just like that, the Red Storm had the tying and go-ahead runs on base. Senior Mary Redmond came in to run for Farnkoff.
Williamson was next and there was little doubt the standout would come through. She did by launching a fly ball to left, which was deep enough for O'Toole to tag and score the tying run.
"I was focusing on a fly ball or a hard ground ball to the right side," Williamson said.
Giles was next and she singled to left, to put runners at first and second. When Murrell's grounder to Robida was mishandled, the bases were loaded with one down and Kent came to the plate.
Did she ever deliver.
Kent ripped a shot to left. Off the bat it appeared Casey had a chance to make the catch and hold the Red Storm to a run on a sacrifice fly, but she couldn't reach it, the ball fell for a double and Redmond and Giles raced home to put Scarborough ahead, 3-1.
"It was a really nerve-wracking situation, I'm not going to lie," Kent said. "I have to credit Erin at second. She signaled an inside pitch was coming. It was nice to see it fall in. It felt really good. I couldn't help but celebrate when I was at second. We were worried, but it was unspoken. We work on staying calm. We know we can do it. (Harvey) had a good rise ball and we were fouling it off and got behind in the count and didn't know what to do. We finally figured it out."
"I was so happy for (Brenna)," Williamson said. "She was due. One through nine, we're all so good. I have confidence in everyone."
"We needed someone to get on and we also needed someone to smack one and (Brenna) did it," Griffin added. "She had a great game. They have a senior pitcher. I'm impressed with her. She has a nice drop ball. She can bring the ball up in the zone, bring in inside, outside. She did good things out there. We just needed to put the ball in play and put it in play on the ground and eventually things went our way."
The Red Storm wasn't finished.
Next up was Burnham, who grounded to short with senior Paige Moore-Haskell (who ran for Murrell) racing home to make it 4-1.
After a wild pitch, Gorey lined a single to left to score Kent and the lead was up to 5-1.
Murphy kept the rally going with a bunt single, but O'Toole, who started all the trouble, popped out to second to end the uprising.
All that was left was for Williamson to register three outs and she made quick work of the Hawks, getting Hussey to ground out to first, Abdul to line softly to short and ended it by inducing a fly ball to left off the bat of Philbrick.
"We kept our heads up," Williamson said. "We know our bats have saved us before and they did today. We saw (Marshwood) play Westbrook and we were impressed. We knew it would be tough."
Scarborough's offense had eight hits, sparked by two apiece from Farnkoff and Kent. Giles, Kent, Moore-Haskell, O'Toole and Redmond all scored. Kent had two RBI while Burnham, Gorey and Williamson each had one. Kent's double was the lone extra base hit of the game.
Williamson improved to 10-0 after allowing just one run on four hits and a walk in her seven innings. She struck out five.
"I felt good," said Williamson said. "I could've done better, but I'm happy we pulled through."
Marshwood got two hits from Harvey, a run scored from Gagne and an RBI from Philbrick. Harvey suffered the loss, despite a strong effort. She surrendered five runs (three earned) on eight hits in six innings, striking out three, while walking no one. She did throw two wild pitches in the fateful sixth inning.
Saturday afternoon, for the third time in four years, Scarborough will host Thornton Academy in the semifinals (the Red Storm beat the Golden Trojans, 4-0, in 2010 and 2-0, two years ago).
Scarborough barely survived the regular season meeting and knows the rematch won't be easy.
The Red Storm is hoping to advance to a seventh straight regional final.
"TA is always a competitor," Kent said. "We just have to stay strong offensively and defensively. There's not doubt in my mind we can go all the way."
"We'll come back (Friday) and work hard at practice," Williamson said. "We're so driven. It's ridiculous how driven we are. I don't think there's ever been a team I've seen that's wanted it as badly as we do."
"We had to come from behind the first time," Griffin added. "(Thornton has) good bats, good team speed and a quality pitcher. We'll have our hands full. We're hungry. We've come a long ways, in a lot of different ways people don't realize. We've really moved forward as a team and jelled as a team. I'm so proud of that. We're in a good place right now. We have great leadership. We have a good chance. That's all we can ask."