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Red Storm take the Western A softball title thanks to pitching and defense

Sports

Red Storm take the Western A softball title thanks to pitching and defense

By Eric Carson

STANDISH— If you happened to make the mistake of blinking, you may have missed the Western Class A softball regional final game.

In what could only be described as a classic pitchers duel, Scarborough freshman Mo Hannan made quick work of the third-ranked South Portland Red Riots, posting 11 strikeouts in a complete game, one-hit shutout, as the top-ranked Red Storm advanced to the state championship game with a 2-0 victory Wednesday night at Ward Park on the campus of St. Joseph's College.

In a tidy 1 hour and 16 minutes, Hannan needed only 73 pitches to outlast South Portland's sophomore ace Alexis Bogdanovich. With a hard fastball occasionally mixed with a devastating changeup, Hannan retired the side in order in five of her seven innings, setting down the final 12 batters she faced to earn the win. In Hannan's final four innings, she recorded seven of her 11 strikeouts, appearing to get stronger and more focused as the game moved into the later innings.

With the win, Scarborough (18-1) will face the Skowhegan Indians (20-1) in the Class A state championship game at noon on Saturday in Augusta at Cony Family Field. Skowhegan knocked off the top-ranked Cony Rams (19-2) on Wednesday by a 2-1 score with a tiebreaking home run in the top of the seventh inning to win the East.

In the regional final, Bogdanovich, a fierce competitor for the Red Riots, was up to the challenge, striking out six and scattering five hits in six complete innings, allowing just one earned run in the 2-0 loss.

The Red Storm touched Bogdanovich for single runs in the bottom of the third and fifth innings, both times with two outs, to secure their second trip to the state championship game in three seasons.

"We've been through this so many times," said long-time Red Storm coach Tom Griffin. "Sometimes you play a game like this and walk away with a 1-0 loss. But this might be the best offensive team we've had one through nine. On any given day it could be another player stepping up and putting the ball in play. We won today without (senior standout) Catie Funk's bat being involved. That's impressive, and we have three freshmen in the middle of the order."

South Portland (15-4) upset the top-ranked Red Storm in a driving rainstorm on the very same field to win the 2005 regional final. The Red Storm returned and won the region with a 7-1 win over the Red Riots in 2007, when they went undefeated and won their first Class A state title behind the brilliant pitching of Kelsey Griffin. Scarborough also downed South Portland in the 2003 semifinals (3-0), 2004 quarterfinals (3-0) and 2008 semifinals (1-0).

Wednesday, with the luxury of sending either Hannan or junior Melissa Dellatore to the hill, Griffin went with his top pitcher of late in Hannan, who has won all three playoff games for the Red Storm so far. Not to mention, Hannon beat the Red Riots 2-0 in nine innings with a 23 strikeout, no-hit performance back on May 30.

"We could have gone either way," Griffin said. "We went with the hot hand. The last time we played South Portland, Hannan had 23 strikeouts. We felt we had to put the ball in her hand. She was getting stronger as the game went on."

And while Hannan was terrific on the hill in this one, the Red Storm defense put together a game for the ages, led by the outstanding play of senior shortstop Brianna Mancuso. With very little time separating a routine play and a base hit, Mancuso effortlessly recorded seven assists on the day, charging groundballs and making strong, accurate throws to retire the batter at first base.

"Their pitcher was doing very well," said Mancuso. "She's tough to hit. It was very important for us to play great defense. Luckily, they hit them to me and I was able to make the plays. It's awesome. Last year (an upset regional final loss to Biddeford) we didn't play well and we were very disappointed. But today we won, and we played a great game, so that makes up for it."

The Red Storm turned one double play in the game when Mancuso snared a line drive by South Portland sophomore Danielle DiBiase in the top of the third inning and gunned down the only batter Hannan walked on the day at first base to end the inning.

Senior Reegan Brackett made a highlight-reel diving catch at second base to rob DiBiase and end the sixth inning, and senior Catie Funk pulled a "look what I found" catch to take extra bases away from South Portland sophomore catcher Katlin Norton for the second out of the seventh inning.

On the offensive side, the Red Storm scratched and clawed to score a pair of runs off the hard-throwing Bogdanovich. In the bottom of the third inning, Mancuso grounded to deep short and beat the throw for a base hit. She then stole second base and came around to score with two outs on a little blooper over the second base bag by Brackett.

In the bottom of the fifth, Scarborough added an insurance run on an RBI single by junior catcher Heather Carrier. Freshman Dominique Burnham reached on an error when her hard-hit, sinking liner rolled out of the glove of the South Portland centerfielder. Mancuso promptly bunted Burnham over to second, and she scored on Carrier's line drive single to leftfield for a 2-0 lead after five complete innings.

"It was stressful there in the beginning," said Carrier. "But the seniors have worked so hard for this and we knew they really wanted it. I did, too. There was one girl out there on base and it was my chance to do something for the team. We went nine innings against South Portland the first time. We didn't want that to happen again. We knew what we had to do, and we did it."

South Portland, consistently one of the league's top programs, graduates only three seniors this year and will likely be right back in the mix next season. Unfortunately, two of the three seniors are in the form of captains Lauren Tuttle and Melissa Thomes. But Bogdanovich will be back next year to take the hill and it should be business as usual for South Portland in 2010.

"It was a great game," said South Portland coach Ralph Aceto. "We had one hit, but even when we hit the ball hard they made great plays. We knew coming in that whoever made the fewest mistakes and put the ball in play would win. They took advantage of our mistakes and then didn't make any. We wish them nothing but the best of luck. But I couldn't be prouder of my girls. The way they performed for me this year, as a first-year coach, was far above what I expected."