Even year jinx lives...Scarborough softball upset by TA
STANDISH—There's only one thing that can stop the Scarborough softball juggernaut.
The "even year jinx."
That and Thornton Academy.
Tuesday afternoon at Richard W. Bailey Field, on the campus of St. Joseph's College, the undefeated, top-ranked Red Storm finally met their match in a game that has been their bugaboo on so many occasions over the years, the Western Class A final.
Scarborough grabbed a 1-0 lead against No. 2 Thornton Academy and its junior ace Bailey Tremblay in the bottom of the first, but managed just one hit the rest of the way.
The Golden Trojans scored twice in the top of the second, with the second run coming home in controversial fashion, and Tremblay made it hold up as Thornton Academy prevailed, 2-1, winning the regional title for the first time.
Scarborough suffered its first loss in 19 games, had its two-year win streak snapped at 31 and the Golden Trojans increased their win streak to 14, improved to 16-3 and advanced to face Skowhegan (15-4) in the Class A Final Saturday at 3 p.m., back at St. Joe's.
"Give (Thornton) credit," said longtime Red Storm coach Tom Griffin. "They made big defensive plays when they had to make them. They had the heart of a champion. I had regarded TA as the second-best team all year. Athlete for athlete, they're as good as anybody in the league."
Since joining Class A for the postseason beginning in 2002, Scarborough has set the bar not only for its class, but for the whole state.
After winning a fourth championship in seven seasons in 2013, this Red Storm edition has been as prolific as any.
After opening with an 8-0 home win over Bonny Eagle, Scarborough outslugged visiting rival South Portland, 13-4. Winning ways continued at Gorham (5-2) and Thornton Academy (5-1), at home over Noble (15-5), at Sanford (14-0), at home over Massabesic (13-2) and at Deering (33-0, in five innings). On May 16, the Red Storm received their first scare, but pushed across a run in the bottom of the seventh inning to defeat visiting McAuley, 7-6. After romping over visiting Marshwood (14-0, in five innings), Scarborough won a key test at Cheverus, 4-0. Easy wins over visiting Windham (13-3) and at Westbrook (17-0) followed, but on May 30, the Red Storm had to rally in the bottom of the seventh to survive visiting Biddeford, 10-9. Scarborough then won at Portland in five innings (20-0) and capped its fourth undefeated regular season in eight years with a 6-4 victory at South Portland to lock up the top seed in Western A.
The even-year jinx almost bit the Red Storm in their playoff opener, as No. 8 Noble took a 5-0 lead in the quarterfinal round last Thursday, but Scarborough rose off the deck and stayed alive with a 6-5 victory. Saturday, in the semifinals, the Red Storm had a much easier time of it with an 8-2 home win over Bonny Eagle.
Thornton Academy has been one of the league's top contenders for many seasons, but had been unable to solve Scarborough and South Portland when it mattered most.
The Golden Trojans handled visiting Portland in the opener, 10-1, then lost at South Portland, 4-3. Up-and-down play continued with a 12-0 home victory over Gorham followed by a 4-3 setback at Bonny Eagle and a 5-1 home loss to Scarborough. Thornton Academy then hit its stride, winning its final 11 regular season contests: 12-0 over visiting Sanford, 7-2 at Massabesic, 28-3 over visiting Deering, 16-1 at McAuley, 5-0 at Noble, 12-0 at Marshwood, 9-2 at home over Cheverus, 5-0 over visiting Biddeford, 16-1 at Windham, 21-0 over visiting Westbrook and 14-0 at Biddeford.
As the No. 2 seed, the Golden Trojans eliminated No. 7 Gorham in the quarterfinals (11-5), then rallied from a two-run fifth inning deficit to oust third-ranked Cheverus Saturday in the semifinals (10-3).
Entering play Tuesday, Scarborough was 15-0 all-time in the series and had won all four prior playoff meetings, by a composite 17-1 margin. Last year, in the semifinals, the Red Storm rolled, 10-1.
This time, Scarborough's good fortune ran out.
Senior ace/Gatorade Player of the Year Alyssa Williamson had a most efficient top of the first inning.
Williamson got Golden Trojans senior second baseman Taylor Lux to swing at the first pitch and hit a sharp grounder to sophomore third baseman Maggie Murphy, who made the play for the out. Senior centerfielder Morgan Dube then grounded out slowly to Murphy on the third pitch she saw and senior first baseman Erin Brayden grounded to second on the first pitch to end the frame.
Scarborough then took the lead in the bottom half.
Junior second baseman Ashley Gleason grounded out to second leading off, but junior rightfielder Brittany Plowman walked and on the first pitch she saw, Williamson singled to left. That set the stage for senior catcher Megan Murrell, who grounded the ball up the middle. Thornton Academy junior shortstop Brooke Cross got a glove on the ball, but it deflected into centerfield and Plowman came home with the game's first run.
Tremblay then escaped further damage by getting senior first baseman Brenna Kent to ground into a second-to-short-to-first double play.
"I was nervous," Tremblay said. "When I'm tense, I rush and that's when everything starts to go bad, but the double play definitely brought our energy up and settled me down and let me know my defense would be behind me. It was a relief."
"That double play was significant," said Thornton Academy coach John Provost. "It was a turning point."
Tremblay beat out a grounder to the hole between short and third to start the top of the second. After Cross sacrificed her to second, sophomore third baseman Kaylee Burns blooped an infield single in front of sophomore shortstop Chloe Gorey, moving Tremblay to third. Burns stole second and sophomore designated player Maizie Lee grounded a ball up the middle. Gleason made a nice diving stop, but Tremblay came home. Burns didn't stop and was thrown out at home, but the umpires ruled that Burns was interfered with rounding third and that the run counted.
"When (Kaylee) rounded third, I saw the third baseman there and I saw the umpire's hand go up, so I waved the runner on," Provost said. "Kaylee couldn't get through the bag when she tried to make the turn. I wasn't going to send her otherwise. It was a huge play. That ended up being the difference."
Not surprisingly, Griffin begged to differ with the call.
"My argument was, whether she was obstructed or not, she would have been an easy out at the plate," Griffin said. "The umpire didn't see it that way. It's a judgement call. You can't just call obstruction because she got in the way a little bit. It's part of a game. I just hate to see a game decided like that. I'd rather see a game decided by a nice hit. What can you do?"
Senior catcher Aleisha Cross popped out to Williamson and sophomore rightfielder Libby Pomerleau popped to Murphy to end the inning, but Thornton Academy had a 2-1 lead.
Int the bottom half, junior leftfielder Sophia Burnham grounded to first on the first pitch, Freshman designated player Abbie Murrell grounded back to the mound and Gorey ripped a shot at third, on which Burns made a nice lunging catch.
In the top of the third, Lux walked leading off and Dube bunted her to second. Brayden then grounded sharply to short and Gorey threw to Murphy for the out at third. Tremblay then grounded to second to end the threat.
Scarborough went 1-2-3 again in the bottom half, as Murphy grounded out to the mound, Gleason did the same and Plowman popped out to second.
Brooke Cross lined to left to start the fourth and Williamson got Burns to fly to right. Junior flex player Keira Fitzgerald beat out an infield single with two down, but Aleisha Cross popped out to second.
The Red Storm threatened in the bottom half, but wound up frustrated.
Williamson lined softly to Tremblay and Megan Murrell grounded to Lux, but the ball took a tough hop and Lux's throw was wild for an error, allowing Murrell to go to second. Freshman Lilly Volk came on to run. Kent grounded to short and Burnham ended the threat by popping out to second.
Williamson registered the first strikeout of the game by either pitcher when she fanned Pomerleau leading off the fifth, but Lux squibbed a single to right and took second on a bunt by Dube. That set the stage for Brayden, who hit a sharp grounder to the hole, but Gorey made a nice backhanded stab and threw her out to keep the deficit at one.
In the bottom half, Abbie Murrell grounded out to short, Gorey bounced back to the pitcher and Murphy hit a ground ball on which Lux ranged to her left to field and throw to first for the third out.
In the sixth, Tremblay popped out to second, Brooke Cross grounded out to Murphy and Burns did the same, with Kent making a nice scoop at first base to retire the side.
Scarborough went in order again in the bottom half.
Gleason flew out to right leading off, Plowman hit a shot to right-center, but Pomerleau ran it down and Williamson popped out to second.
Williamson kept her team within a run in the top of the seventh. Lee led off with a single to center and was sacrificed to second by Aleisha Cross, but Pomerleau and Lux both popped out to short.
Tremblay then put a bow on her gem and her team made history in the bottom half.
Megan Murrell hit the ball sharply leading off, but it was right at Lux, who threw to first for the out. Kent gave Scarborough hope with a line single to left, the Red Storm's first hit since the first inning, but Burnham hit a grounder to Lux, who made a nice spin and throw to get the force at second. That brought up Abbie Murrell, who hit a grounder that went off Tremblay's glove, but Lux got to the ball and threw her out.
"I wasn't nervous," said Tremblay. "I was confident. (Scarborough) can come back. I knew they'd fight. We just needed to do the same thing. I was confident in Taylor behind me. She's been solid."
At 4:59 p.m., for the first time in program history, Thornton Academy had won a regional softball title, 2-1.
"It feels great," said Tremblay. "Scarborough's beaten us for a long time. We knew we could do it. We just had to play our game the way we had all year. We couldn't let the Scarborough name and legacy intimidate us and we didn't today. We knew our potential. We had to turn it around. We improved throughout the season. We finished strong."
"The girls are on a long winning streak and feel like they can play with anyone," Provost said. "They're extremely confident. We played well against (Scarborough) the first time. We made some errors and knew we couldn't give them extra outs. We knew it would be a one-run game either way."
Tremblay was superb, even though she didn't strike out a single batter. Tremblay allowed just one earned run on three hits and one walk in her seven innings to lead her team to victory.
"I know all the Scarborough girls can hit," Tremblay said. "We talked about mixing everything up, hitting my spots and keeping them off-balance."
"Bailey pitched a tremendous game today," Provost said. "We're an offensive juggernaut, but we stress pitching and defense. Bailey did a tremendous job mixing up her stuff and my defense showed up to play."
Scarborough could only tip its cap.
"Bailey was just on,' Williamson said. "She's very good with her off-speed pitches. We practiced it and we didn't get fooled by it, but she looked really good. We couldn't produce runners and move them over when she pitched so well. I'm happy for her."
"(Bailey) kept us off balance," Griffin added. "We tried to stay off her change-up and didn't do that."
The Golden Trojans only mustered two runs on six hits. Lee was the only multiple hitter and had an RBI. Burns and Tremblay scored runs. Burns had the game's lone stolen base.
Thornton Academy, which has never met Skowhegan in a countable game, will return to St. Joe's Saturday looking to cap this historic run.
"We have to play as a team, keep our energy up and work together," Tremblay said. "Hopefully we can keep it up."
"This is the first time being in the regional final and winning it is a first, so hopefully winning states will be a first too," Provost said. "We have to repeat today, play defense and have timely hitting."
Wait til' next year
Scarborough was out of sorts all afternoon and will have a long offseason to lament what-if.
"There's always that thing in the back of our heads about the Western Maine Finals," Williamson said. "We came in relaxed, ready to go, but props to TA. They were ready to bring it. We've had three close games this spring where we pulled it out. The captains told everyone it's not over until it's over. We can produce runs when we need to. We tried our best, but it didn't work out."
Williamson (who will attend and play at Drexel University in Philadelphia next year) suffered her first loss of the season, despite giving up just two runs on six hits and a walk in seven innings. She fanned one batter.
"Alyssa pitched a great game," Griffin said. "She had to get through a mental block. She pushed through today. I'm really proud of her. She's on a very short list of outstanding players we've had. She's the third Gatorade Player of the Year we've had. I'd have her as one of the top two hitters we've ever had, especially as a left-handed hitter. Catie Funk (Class of 2009, who went on to star at Babson College) was a terrific righthanded hitter and Alyssa has been terrific from the left side. She owned the entire plate, inside and out."
Williamson said that she will long treasure her time as a member of the Scarborough softball program.
"It's difficult and it's a tough loss, but looking back, I wouldn't trade anything for this team," Williamson said. "I'm so thankful for my parents, friends and coaches. I'm so thankful I was brought up in Scarborough. I know I'll be remembered and I can hold that with me. When I'm older, I can tell my kids about Scarborough softball."
The normally prolific Red Storm offense only mustered three hits. Plowman scored the lone run and Megan Murrell had the RBI.
For the seventh time in 12 seasons, Scarborough lost one step shy of the state final.
"If you get to this point, you have two good teams," Griffin said. "Sometimes it's just the bounce of the ball. I lost a (regional final) against South Portland in the rain (in 2005), because my shortstop threw the ball and it hit off the back of the runner going into third base. I had another loss when a ball took a bad hop. Sometimes, it's the bounce of the ball. It's never a 10-8 game. It's always 2-1, or 3-2."
Kent, Megan Murrell and Williamson graduate, but if you think for a second that Scarborough won't top the list of 2015 favorites, guess again.
"We'll get ready for next year and we'll be back," Griffin said. "We had great seniors, but I have three outstanding pitchers coming back and some very talented freshmen coming into the program. Maybe we'll have the 'Disney magic' (the Red Storm go to Florida in the preseason every odd-numbered year) next year. We had a great season and we had a lot of fun doing it."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous Scarborough-TA playoff results
2013 Western A semifinals
@ Scarborough 10 TA 1
2011 Western A semifinals
@ Scarborough 2 TA 0
2010 Western A semifinals
@ Scarborough 4 TA 0
2005 Western A quarterfinals
@ Scarborough 1 TA 0 (10)